South Portland Red Riots Winter Sports Preview

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South Portland’s boys’ basketball team won a regional crown a year ago and almost upset Portland in an epic Class AA state final. The Red Riots seek to finish the job this winter.

File photos.

More photos below.

BOYS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Kevin Millington (second year)

2015-16 record: 12-10 (Lost, 52-50, in double overtime, to Portland in Class AA state final)

Top returning players: Ruay Bol (Senior), Ansel Stilley (Senior), Riley Hasson (Junior)

Pivotal games: Dec. 9 PORTLAND, Dec. 13 @ Westbrook, Dec. 22 SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 12 @ Scarborough, Jan. 14 @ Deering, Jan. 18 CHEVERUS, Jan. 20 @ TA, Jan. 24 FALMOUTH, Jan. 31 WINDHAM, Feb. 3 @ Cheverus, Feb. 6 @ Portland, Feb. 9 DEERING

Coach’s comment: “We stayed together last year and that helped us in the tournament. That will help us again this year because the guys are focused on playing their best basketball at the end of the season. We graduated three starters, but I like this team a lot. It’s a very different team in style. We’re very athletic. We’re probably the most athletic team in Maine. We have good size. We shoot better than we did last year. We’re smaller and faster than last year. We want to get back to where we were. I like our chances.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland saved its best for last a season ago. After a .500 regular campaign, the Red Riots weren’t considered a title contender when the tournament began, but South Portland navigated a tough Class AA South field, won a surprising regional crown, then gave heavily favored Portland a mighty scare in an epic state final before dropping a double-overtime thriller by a mere two points. The Red Riots then graduated eight players, including Winter Male Athlete of the Year Jack Fiorini, but this year’s team is better equipped to excel from start to finish.

The top returner is Bol, whose exciting above-the-rim play produced many highlights a season ago. Bol, an honorable mention all-star in 2015-16, averaged 6.4 rebounds per contest. He’ll be a matchup nightmare in the open floor and in halfcourt sets. Hasson had his breakout game in the state final. His unmatched energy and willingness to do anything for his team make him a coach’s dream. Hasson will also be a factor in the frontcourt, as will Stilley, who will play an even bigger role this season. Senior Cam Deiley adds depth down low. South Portland has many promising guards as well. Seniors Moses Oreste and Deandre White had to bide their time last year and will get their chance this winter. Juniors Liam Coyne and Noah Malone have also been part of the varsity program. Junior Connor Buckley is a transfer from Deering. Several players from that group will step up in the weeks to come.

The Red Riots face another daunting schedule, which fittingly begins at home with Portland Friday night. South Portland is viewed as a co-favorite with Thornton Academy in Class AA South and there are several other teams looking to challenge. The road won’t be easy, but it the Red Riots show steady improvement again, they’ll be in great position to steal more tournament thunder and perhaps this time, finish it off with the program’s first Gold Ball since 1992.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Lynne Hasson (fourth year, 47-14 overall record)

2015-16 record: 17-4 (Lost, 37-30, to eventual state champion Gorham in Class AA South Final)

Top returning players: Lydia Henderson (Senior), Meghan Graff (Junior), Katie Whitmore (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 9 MAINE GIRLS’ ACADEMY, Dec. 13 @ Deering, Dec. 15 @ Gorham, Jan. 3 @ Scarborough, Jan. 12 @ MGA, Jan. 18 @ Cheverus, Jan. 20 TA, Jan. 28 CHEVERUS, Feb. 3 DEERING

Coach’s comment: “We’re young with just one senior, but we’ve had a great preseason. I have 10 to 12 players who can play. We’re deep and we can run. We’ll be athletic. We want to create havoc on defense. We’ll have to replace Maddie’s points. The goal is to get to the Civic Center and get to a championship game. The ultimate goal is the Gold Ball. I think it’s going to be a fun year.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland had a lot of fun last winter, riding the excellence of Winter Female Athlete of the Year Maddie Hasson to the regional final, where the Red Riots finally met their match in eventual champion Gorham. Hasson has graduated, but a strong team returns and some key additions make South Portland the squad best equipped to perhaps dethrone Gorham this season.

The Red Riots had the SMAA’s best defense a year ago and if they play the same smothering style this winter, they’ll be in every game. Henderson, South Portland’s Fall Female Athlete of the Year, sets the tone on that side of the ball. The four-year starter and captain will look to knock down shots and set up her teammates (she averaged 2.4 assists in 2015-16). Graff is another seasoned veteran. She was eighth in the league in scoring (12.7 points per game), seventh in steals (2.8) and 12th in assists (2.6) and made the SMAA first-team a year ago. As the point guard, Graff can knock down shots and is another top defender. Whitmore had a strong freshman campaign and made the SMAA All-Rookie team. She’ll be a factor down low. The biggest addition is South Portland native Eva Mazur. The junior spent her first two high school seasons at McAuley and has staked her claim as the league’s finest defender. She’ll look to score more this season as well. Junior Sarah Boles will play a bigger role as a guard. She could be a scorer. Sophomore Bela Cloutier and freshman Livvy Cloutier will spell Graff at times at point guard and sophomore Grace Reade is another player who will see time in the backcourt. Up front, sophomore Jena Leckie could be in for a breakout season and freshmen Kaleisha Towle (who stands 6-foot-2) and Maggie Whitmore will be heard from. Freshman Ashley Aceto can play guard or forward and will also contribute.

The Red Riots are eager to build on last year’s success. It’s been 31 years since the program’s last championship. This squad will take some time to hit its stride due to the number of younger players, but its upside is obvious. By February, look for the Red Riots to be shutting down the opposition and knocking down key shots. If Gorham fails to go back-to-back, South Portland will probably be the reason why.

BOYS’ HOCKEY

Coach: Joe Robinson (10th year, 79-88-6 overall record)

2015-16 record: 5-12-2 (Lost, 9-2, to Falmouth in Class A South quarterfinals)

Top returning players: James Ellis (Senior), Joe Grant (Senior), Will Armstrong (Junior), Caleb Rowland (Junior), Aidan Schifano (Junior), Max Winson (Junior), Mitchell Adams (Sophomore), Atticus Patrick (Sophomore), Owen Patrick (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 23 @ TA, Jan. 5 @ Portland/Deering, Jan. 7 CHEVERUS, Jan. 28 BIDDEFORD, Jan. 31 CAPE ELIZABETH, Feb. 22 @ Scarborough

Coach’s comment: “I like our schedule a lot. We’re back to playing some upper level teams like Biddeford and TA. We’re still a young team, but we’re more experienced with a lot of talent and skill. We’re looking to get back to having a winning record and making the playoffs.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland (which also includes players from Freeport and Waynflete) has been able to compete even with low numbers in recent years and this winter, the Red Riots should be in the thick of things again.

Grant, a first-team all-stater last winter, returns in goal. He’ll be aided by defensemen Armstrong, Ellis and Patrick. The offense will be paced by Adams and Schifano. Patrick, Rowland and Winson also have experience and will help the cause. Freshmen Deven Hannan and Gus Lappin could soon become household names.

South Portland will have its hands full battling with the upper echelon squads, but should win enough games to get to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. This is a team that could be a darkhorse by the time the postseason arrives.

INDOOR TRACK

Boys’ coach: Dave Kahill (ninth year)

Girls’ coach: Karen Reardon (fifth year)

2015-16 results:

(Boys) 14th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 7th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Brandon Gagne (Senior), Xander Keiter (Senior), Brad Mileson (Senior), Xavier Mills (Senior), Steven Smith (Senior), Layton Steele (Senior), Dan Woodhouse (Senior), Finn Zechman (Senior), Nathan Begonia (Junior), Max Holmes (Junior), Ben Sivik (Sophomore)

(Girls) Sophia Cummings (Senior), Toia Francis (Senior), Phoebe Letourneau (Senior), Amber McKenzie (Senior), Callie O’Brien (Senior), Emily Bolduc (Junior), Rachel Haynes (Junior), Juliana Selser (Junior), Julia Banks (Sophomore)

Coach Kahill’s comment: “We’re a balanced team with strong senior leadership and great underclassmen energy. The distance crew is deep and talented with a number of seniors. We have a versatile group of sprinters and jumpers and a challenge for the team will be to develop depth with the underclassmen in those events. We could have a very strong junior division. We’ll improve and be competitive throughout the season and have the potential to be a top five team at the SMAA meet.”

Coach Reardon’s comment: “We’re always looking to improve our level of performance. We’ve had several strong regular seasons in a row and we’re looking to move up in the big meets this year. We have a number of athletes who are juniors and seniors, so it should be fun to watch. It’s a good group of girls to work with, so we look forward to our opening meet on the 17th to see how we look.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Once again, the South Portland indoor track program features an abundance of standout athletes who will keep the Red Riots near the top of the league.

The boys’ team returns Sivik from a scoring state 4×200 relay team. Sivik will be a top sprinter in the junior division. Begonia and Holmes lead the senior division sprinting contingent. Mileson, Zechman and freshman Harrison Mayone are hurdlers to watch. South Portland has depth and talent in the distance events, featuring captains Keiter and Smith, as well as Mileson, Steele, Woodhouse, junior Lionel Whitehead and freshmen Jack Kingsley and Liam Piper. The Red Riots are strong on the field side as well. Top throwers include Gagne, Mills and freshmen Chase Cunha and Nate Ellington. Gagne will also compete in the pole vault and the jumps, along with Begonia, Holmes and Zechman. There’s a lot of promise on this roster. If it develops as hopes, South Portland will be able to battle the conference’s elite teams and be in position to move into the top 10 at states.

On the girls’ side, the Red Riots return defending Class A 800 champion Selser, who can run everything from sprints to middle distance and be a factor. Also returning is O’Brien (fourth in the 55 hurdles). O’Brien will also compete in the sprints along with Banks, Bolduc, Cummings, Haynes, senior Erica Magnuson and freshmen Izzy Chase, Savannah Dunbar, Jordyn Hulsey and Eva Tedford. Bolduc and Hulsey will join O’Brien in the hurdles. In the distance, look for Francis, senior Thaovy Duong and sophomore Eileen Portfield to all compete well. South Portland also has talent on the field side. Banks, Bolduc, Chase, Cummings, Dunbar, Haynes, Letourneau, O’Brien and Tedford hope to be heard from in the jumps. The throws feature Magnuson, McKenzie and freshman Rebekah Hunnewel-Dunphy. This is a team that will be competitive throughout and has the necessary ingredients to place in the top five when all is said and done.

SWIMMING

Coach: Ryan Green (fourth year)

2015-16 results:

(Boys) 14th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 16th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Liam Hayes (Senior), Mitchell Amadei (Sophomore), Brayden Gilbert (Sophomore), Sam Goodine-Doane (Sophomore)

(Girls) Grace Goodwin (Senior), Sofia McNally (Senior), Sophie Chase (Junior), Glen Ratliff (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “The boys’ team is small, but talented, led by Hayes, Amadei and Goodine-Doane, all of whom should score in multiple events. Our relays will be competitive. The girls have a deep squad that will have no problem filling all the events three deep during the dual meet season. We return nine individual state qualifiers and look to add several talented newcomers to that number.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland’s swim program is poised to be very competitive in the weeks to come.

The boys’ squad features Amadei and Gilbert, who both swim the backstroke and butterfly, Hayes, a freestyle and butterfly specialist, and Goodine-Doane, who will look to score in the breaststroke and individual medley. Junior Jesse Pearlman will be a top diver and freshman Max Jones is a sprint freestyler to watch. The Red Riots will be able to hang with most of their foes and should move up the standings at the championship meets.

On the girls’ side, Goodwin (freestyle) and McNally (IM, breaststroke) are veterans. Chase is a threat in the fly and breaststroke and Ratliff looks to score diving points. Freshman Abby Brier (IM, freestyle) and Margaret Jones (freestyle, fly) are newcomers to watch. South Portland is hoping for a ninth-place finish or better for the first time since 2005.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Senior Ruay Bol will score his share of points this season, below or above the rim.

Junior Riley Hasson has turned heads with his take-no-prisoners style of play.

Look for junior Ansel Stilley to be in the middle of the Red Riots’ success this season.

Senior Deandre White is another top returner this winter.

Senior Lydia Henderson has been a four-year starter for the South Portland girls’ basketball team. She hopes to bow out as a state champion.

Senior Meghan Graff can do it all.

Sophomore Jena Leckie will be a post presence for the Red Riots.

Katie Whitmore had a terrific freshman season and will play a big role again this winter.

Junior Sarah Boles could make some noise from her guard position.

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