South Portland Red Riots Winter Sports Preview

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Look for plenty of excitement for South Portland’s winter sports teams. Boys’ basketball has stolen headlines in recent years and that should again be the case in 2010-11. The girls’ squad is in the playoff hunt. Boys’ hockey is coming off its best season ever and is among the big boys in the state. Track has several strong athletes. Swimming will also be heard from.

BOYS’ BASKETBALL

COACH: Phil Conley (fourth year)

2009-10 Record: 15-5 (Lost, 72-66, in OT, to Westbrook in Western Class A semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Steve Hodge (Senior), Mike Kennedy (Senior), Matt Russell (Senior), Tanner Hyland (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Jan. 4 @ Marshwood, Jan. 11 @ Scarborough, Jan. 13 @ Deering, Jan. 15 @ Thornton Academy, Jan. 18 @ Portland, Jan. 28 (H) CHEVERUS, Feb. 3 (H) DEERING, Feb. 5 (H) WESTBROOK, Feb. 8 (H) PORTLAND, Feb. 11 @ Cheverus

COACH’S COMMENT: “We have a really young team after graduating nine seniors. This group is inexperienced but talented. I hope they’ll improve each and every day. We’re very athletic. It’s a year where there are a lot of playoff spots open. Our goal is always to make the playoffs.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: South Portland has now posted a winning record and made it to at least the quarterfinals in four straight seasons, its best stretch this century. Last year’s season ended in agony when an overtime loss to Westbrook brought the curtain down on the storied career of Keegan Hyland, now at Gonzaga University. Eight others (including league all-stars Connor Hasson and Matt Lee) joined Hyland (a Maine Mr. Basketball Finalist) at graduation, meaning this year’s squad is largely starting from scratch. But don’t write the Red Riots off. This team will become a factor in the weeks to come. For starters, Conley has impressed in his limited time at the helm, winning The Forecaster’s Coach of the Year award in 2008 and the league’s honor last winter. South Portland got off to a strong start Friday with a 53-41 home win over Biddeford. That game marked the return of senior Vukasin Vignjevic, who missed all of 2009-10 with a knee injury. He scored 15 points against the Tigers, as did junior Logan Gaddar. The Red Riots have several other weapons as well. Down low, Russell, at 6-foot-7, will be intimidating at both ends of the floor. He had seven points in the opener. Kennedy also has size. Tanner Hyland runs the point. He saw limited time as a freshman, but will called upon to play a bigger role this winter. Hodge, sophomore Ben Burkey and junior Jordan Muller (eight points Friday night) are other players to watch. There are no expectations on this group, which will play to its advantage. After Cheverus, the league is wide open, meaning South Portland should be able to contend with and beat most of its foes. While matching last year’s mark might be a stretch, if this group comes along as hoped, it will be in the mix for a high playoff seed and could be very dangerous at the Expo and the Civic Center. The rest of Western A should overlook the Red Riots at their peril.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

COACH: Mike Giordano (15th year)

2009-10 Record: 11-9 (Lost, 40-22, to Scarborough in Western Class A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Danielle DiBiase (Senior), Abby Hasson (Senior), Stephanie McDonough (Senior), Jill Legere (Junior), Danica Gleason (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 21 @ Sanford, Dec. 23 @ Deering, Jan. 11 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 13 (H) MCAULEY, Jan. 15 (H) TA, Jan. 25 @ Gorham, Jan. 28 @ Cheverus, Feb. 11 (H) CHEVERUS

COACH’S COMMENT: “It’s a good group of kids. We’ll change to up-tempo this year. We’re deep. We’ll look to score off our defense. I think we’re somewhere in the middle of the pack. There’s a bunch of teams who will beat up on each other. It’ll be a game every night. We hope to get back to the quarterfinals. It should be a fun year.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: South Portland’s change to up-tempo paid immediate dividends in the opener Friday night, when it posted a whopping 72 points in a 17-point win at Biddeford. That was 50 more than the Red Riots scored in their playoff ouster last year and the most they’d registered since Feb. 18, 2005 (78-36 over Cheverus). Hasson, who’s recovered from injury, led the way with 19 points. Gleason added 15 and DiBiase had 12. Junior Logan Neal impressed by scoring nine. Giordano won’t hesitate to use his bench so the team can run and stay fresh. Hasson and Legere will control the paint. DiBiase (an honorable mention all-star last winter after averaging 10.1 points, 3.2 assists and hitting 79 percent of her foul shots) and Gleason (a member of the 2009-10 All-Rookie team) will play bombs away from the outside and McDonough brings leadership and the willingness and ability to do whatever it takes to help the team. Juniors Libby Grant and Emily Masters and freshman Brianne Maloney are others to watch. South Portland hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2000 and appears to have the necessary pieces to keep that streak alive. The Red Riots will battle hard every night and while they’re not in the top echelon where Cheverus, Deering and McAuley reside, they should be able to hold their own against the rest of the league. By February, don’t be surprised if South Portland has a winning record yet again and is turning some heads in the playoffs.

BOYS’ HOCKEY

COACH: Joe Robinson (fourth year)

2009-10 Record: 15-5 (Lost, 7-2, to Biddeford in Western Class A semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Josh Cobb (Senior), D.J. Conley (Senior), Tommy Ellis (Senior), Zach Griffin (Senior), Robert Hannigan (Senior), Zach Horton (Senior), Dominic Desjardins (Junior), Nick Whitten (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 16 (H) YARMOUTH, Dec. 18 @ Bangor, Dec. 20 @ York, Dec. 22 @ Thornton Academy, Jan. 8 @ Greely, Jan. 17 @ Falmouth, Jan. 20 @ Portland, Jan. 27 @ Scarborough, Feb. 10 (H) PORTLAND, Feb. 12 @ Biddeford, Feb. 17 (H) TA, Feb. 19 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Feb. 21 (H) BIDDEFORD

COACH’S COMMENT: “I think it will be a tough season, but we’re ready. I’m not concerned about our record. We’ll just want to make the playoffs.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: The South Portland program has arrived among the big boys and as a result, the Red Riots have to face one of the most difficult schedules around. A year ago, the team made history, tying the school record for wins, reaching the semifinals for the first time and earning Winter Male Athlete of the Year honors for Horton and Coach of the Year mention for Robinson. Now a Tier I squad, South Portland has almost no easy games on the slate and will be tested from start to the finish. Despite a valiant effort in the opener, the Red Riots lost, 5-3, at home to perennial power Falmouth Saturday. Cobb, Whitten and freshman Ryan Gilboy had the goals. Horton and senior Cole Rowland (a transfer from Leavitt) added assists. South Portland is solid all over the ice. Desjardins is a tested goalie. The defense features Horton, Ellis (an honorable mention all-star a year ago) and Rowland. On attack, Cobb, Conley, Gilboy, Griffin, Hannigan and Whitten will all do damage. There are three freshmen and three sophomores on the varsity squad who will see some time on the ice. The Red Riots won’t be nearing last year’s win-loss record playing the likes of Biddeford, Falmouth, Scarborough and Thornton Academy on a regular basis, but if they can find a way to earn enough victories to get into the playoffs, the season would be a resounding success. South Portland wanted an opportunity to play with the elite powers and now it has arrived. Expect the Red Riots to battle every time they take the ice.

INDOOR TRACK

BOYS’ COACH: Dave Kahill (third year)

GIRLS’ COACH: Bob Zinchuk (20th year)

2009-10 Results:

(BOYS) 14th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) No score @ Class A state meet (eighth @ Southwesterns)

TOP RETURNING ATHLETES:

(BOYS) Brian Campbell (Senior), Arman Mohammad (Senior), Tom Redstone (Senior), Adrian Reid (Senior), Matt Welch (Senior), Konzo Alognon (Junior), Teddy Lefay (Junior), Dan Medici (Junior), Thomas Salamone (Junior), Darryl Wilkinson (Junior), Joe Feely (Sophomore), Austin Gotts (Sophomore), Than Kieu (Sophomore), Ryan Tuttle (Sophomore), Joe Zelasko (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Annelise Donahue (Senior), Haley Grohman (Senior), Maria Letourneau (Senior), Tori Owens (Senior), Max Wilder (Senior), Erin Bogdanovich (Sophomore), Cheyenne Coombs (Sophomore), Sophia Desjardins (Sophomore), Ericka Lightner (Sophomore), Bridget Mulligan (Sophomore), Angela Tirabassi (Sophomore)

TOP FOES: Deering, Scarborough boys; Bonny Eagle, Cheverus, Scarborough, Thornton Academy girls

COACH KAHILL’S COMMENT: “The upperclassmen have shown exceptional leadership in their preparation for the season. Adrian, Dan, Brian and Ryan lead a group of talented and versatile sprinters. Thomas, Tom, Arman and Darryl should be consistent scorers in the distance events and Matt, Joe, and Than should be consistent scorers in the shot put. This year’s Riots should be very competitive at the Expo and several athletes will look to place at the state championship.”

COACH ZINCHUK’S COMMENT: “We will be competitive each meet and hope to learn to compete and qualify of athletes for the state meet. Our sophomore group is talented with elite potential.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Both South Portland indoor track teams feature promising athletes this winter.

The boys hope to be a force all season at the Expo and move up the standings at states. The team’s lone returning state scorer is Reid, who came in seventh in the 55. He leads the sprinting contingent and gets help from Alognon, Campbell, Feely, Lefay, Medici and Tuttle. Junior Joey DiBiase and freshmen Ben Michaud and Anthony Tran add depth in those races. The middle distance crew consists of Campbell, Tuttle and freshman Joe Bagley. Distance features Gotts, Mohammad, Redstone, Salamone and Wilkinson, along with new sophomore Max Knutsen. Bagley, Campbell, Feely, Medici, Tran and Tuttle are hurdlers. Kieu, Welch and Zelasko look to score in the shot put. They’re joined by freshman Travis Meserve. The potential is here for a very successful campaign.

On the girls’ side, there are some very good runners on the roster. Leading the way is Donahue, was qualified for states in the 800 last season. She’s a premier distance threat. Grohman, Letourneau, Owens and Wilder bring experience and hope to qualify in middle distance. The sophomore group will only get better. Bogdanovich is a standout hurdler. Coombs high jumps. Desjardins and Lightner sprint. Lightner also hurdles. Mulligan and Tirabassi compete in the middle distance. Several freshman also look to make a mark. The Red Riots should be able to improve last year’s 7-7 regular season mark, impress at Southwesterns and for the first time in three years, score at states.

SWIMMING

COACH: Rob Card (sixth year)

2009-10 Results:

(BOYS) 13th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 23rd @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNING SWIMMERS:

(BOYS) Lucas Ashbaugh (Senior), Adam Sellick (Senior), Chad MacWhinnie (Junior), Colby Brown (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Maureen Blanchard (Senior), Nicole Fogg (Junior), Lauren Halvorsen (Sophomore), Abby Onos (Sophomore), Emma Tremblay (Sophomore)

TOP FOES: Cape, Elizabeth, Greely, Scarborough

COACH’S COMMENT: “We hope to place in the top 10 at the state meets.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Both South Portland swim teams hope to improve in 2010-11.

The boys return MacWhinnie, who came in 16th in the 500 free a year ago. Ashbaugh and Sellick were part of scoring relay teams. Ashbaugh competes in the butterfly and individual medley. Sellick is a breaststroker. Brown is a top sprint freestyler. Junior Keith Carmichael (diving) and freshmen Christien Breau (IM) and Colin Harle (50 free) are new to the squad and hope to make a name for themselves. The Red Riots could be one of the better teams at Southwesterns and look for a top 10 finish at states for the first time since 2005.

On the girls’ side, Blanchard (50 free, 100 backstroke), Fogg (sprint freestyle), Halvorsen (distance freestyle) and Onos (sprint freestyle) all bring diverse talents to the pool. Each scored in relays last year at states. Tremblay is the top diving threat. New senior Sydney Damian-Loring will make an impact in the individual medley and the butterfly. South Portland looks to be competitive all season and be at its best when the postseason meets arrive in February.

Senior Abby Hasson should be a force in the paint for the Red Riots this winter.

Senior Zach Horton was named South Portland’s Winter Male Athlete of the Year in 2009-10.

Look for sophomore Nick Whitten to play a big role on this year’s squad.

Junior Dan Medici looks to score in the hurdles this season.

Sophomore Ericka Lightner is a threat in the hurdles and sprints.

Sidebar Elements


Senior Josh Cobb and the South Portland boys’ hockey team have established themselves as a top tier Western A program.

More photos below.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.