South Portland Red Riots Winter Sports Preview

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Senior Meghan Graff and her South Portland girls’ basketball teammates have their eyes on winning the program’s first state championship in 32 years.

File photo.

More photos below.

BOYS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Kevin Millington (third year, 29-14 overall reacord)

2016-17 record: 17-4 (Lost, 60-38, to Portland in Class AA state final)

Top returning players: Connor Buckley (Senior), Liam Coyne (Senior), Riley Hasson (Senior), Noah Malone (Senior)

Pivotal games: Dec. 12 CHEVERUS, Dec. 16 @ Greely, Dec. 19 SCARBOROUGH, Dec. 22 @ Thornton Academy, Dec. 30 @ Oxford Hills, Jan. 5 DEERING, Jan. 9 WINDHAM, Jan. 11 @ Portland, Jan. 19 @ Deering, Jan. 26 @ Falmouth, Feb. 6 PORTLAND, Feb. 8 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “It’s a different team, but I think this team has talent. It just needs to find its identity. We have a balance. The focus is on getting better. We’re a major contender in the South again. I think we have the toughest schedule. If we can get all of our guards on the same page, we can be pretty good.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: After nearly winning the state title after a .500 regular season in 2015-16, South Portland was much more formidable a year ago, but couldn’t dig out of an early and steep hole in losing again to Portland in the state game. This time around, the Red Riots hope the third time is the charm and with the talent on this roster, it could very well be.

While the loss of SMAA Player of the Year and reigning Winter Male Athlete of the Year Ruay Bol will be felt, South Portland returns four seasoned guards, who can all score and handle the ball. Hasson was a third-team league all-star in 2016-17 after averaging 3.3 assists and 2.7 steals per contest. His willingness and ability to make plays all over the floor, whether he’s vertical or horizontal, is well documented. Hasson can also see time in the post if need be. Buckley, Coyne and Malone (who averaged 10.7 points per game last winter) all will hit key shots in the weeks to come. Down low, look for juniors Shippin Savidge (6-foot-7) and Scott Lewis (6-6) to make an impact. Junior Tyree Bigokata is another newcomer to watch at the guard position.

South Portland has very few easy games on its schedule, but this is a team that will still win its share and get better as the season goes along. The Red Riots will ultimately be judged by what they do in the tournament. While Scarborough and Thornton Academy pose threats in Class AA South, South Portland has enough talent to advance and if it does, another showdown with Portland could await. This might be the year the Red Riots finally break through and bring home their first Gold Ball since 1992.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Lynne Hasson (fifth year, 64-17 overall record)

2016-17 record: 17-3 (Lost, 46-44, to eventual state champion Gorham in Class AA South Final)

Top returning players: Sarah Boles (Senior), Meghan Graff (Senior), Eva Mazur (Senior), Jena Leckie (Junior), Katie Whitmore (Junior), Maggie Whitmore (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 12 CHEVERUS, Dec. 15 GREELY, Dec. 19 @ Scarborough, Dec. 29 OXFORD HILLS, Jan. 11 @ Portland, Jan. 13 @ MGA, Jan. 19 DEERING, Feb. 3 @ Gorham, Feb. 6 PORTLAND, Feb. 8 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “It’s a great bunch of kids. They’ve paid their dues. We’re off to a great start. I like what I’m seeing from the younger kids. We have to stay focused and play hard. The girls have fallen just short the past two years. We have the same goal this season, to win the state championship, but we want to enjoy the journey. It’s going to be a good season.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland took Gorham to the wire in last year’s thrilling regional final and after the Rams lost some top players to graduation, the Red Riots are now viewed as the team to beat in Class AA. South Portland certainly could emerge with a Gold Ball for the first time since 1986, but it won’t come easily.

The Red Riots boast a pair of college-bound standouts in Graff (Bates College) and Mazur (Saint Anselm). Graff, a captain, was seventh in the conference in scoring a year ago (13.5 points per game) and can also rebound (6.1 per contest), play strong defense (2.3 steals) and share the ball (3.2 assists). Graff, a first-team league all-star in 2016-17, will play point guard, shooting guard and can even make good things happen in the paint. Mazur, also a captain, is a defensive standout (3.6 steals a game last year), who showed more of a scoring ability en route to being named to the third-team last winter. Mazur is also unselfish (4.0 assists per contest). She’s been a winner throughout her high school career and would love to lead South Portland to the pinnacle before departing. Maggie Whitmore, a forward, had a breakout freshman season, averaging 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in a second-team all-star campaign. Whitmore is also a top defender who usually draws the top post player on the opposing team. Leckie and Katie Whitmore are other top forwards. Several other players are primed to see more minutes and become household names. Junior guard Bela Cloutier can put the ball in the basket. Sophomore point guard Liv Cloutier and freshman Maria Degifico will also have an opportunity to run the offense. Boles, the third captain, is another guard to watch. Sophomore Ashlee Aceto, last seen helping South Portland’s volleyball team reach the state final, will see time at guard or forward. Aceto’s volleyball teammate, sophomore Kaleisha Towle, who stands 6-foot-2, will be tough to match up with in the post. Freshman Cora Boothby-Akilo, who stands 6-4, gives the Red Riots even more height.

Gorham’s not about to go quietly and Scarborough and Maine Girls’ Academy are teams on the rise, but South Portland has the pieces in place to go all the way. If the Red Riots stay healthy, it’s hard to see anyone derailing them. A truly special and memorable season could be in store.

BOYS’ HOCKEY

Coach: Joe Robinson (11th year, 86-99-7 overall record)

2016-17 record: 7-11-1 (Lost, 5-2, to Cheverus in Class A South quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Aidan Schifano (Senior), Mitchell Adams (Junior), Atticus Patrick (Junior), Owen Patrick (Junior), Deven Hannan (Sophomore), Gus Lappin (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 14 @ Portland/Deering, Dec. 16 @ Cheverus, Dec. 28 SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 15 @ Biddeford, Jan. 27 PORTLAND/DEERING, Feb. 1 CAPE ELIZABETH

Coach’s comment: “We’re a tight-knit group with a lot of young talent. We’re looking to put all of the pieces together to get into the playoffs and go from there.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete co-op team has consistently contended in recent years and this winter should feature more of the same.

The offense will be paced this year by forwards Hannan, Lappin, Owen Patrick and Schifano and Adams, an offensive-minded defenseman. Freshman Bradley McMains looks to make his mark as a scorer as well. Adams is joined on defense by Atticus Patrick and sophomores Austin Gross and Willets Myer. Junior Alex Les and sophomore Liam McGibbon will vie for time in goal, as they look to replace reigning league all-star Joe Grant.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete has a lot of tough games on the schedule, but this group is equipped to compete. A winning record and a trip to the postseason wouldn’t come as a surprise. If a few bounces go their way, this squad could even make noise into March.

INDOOR TRACK

Boys’ coach: Dave Kahill (10th year)

Girls’ coach: Karen Reardon (sixth year)

2016-17 results:

(Boys) 18th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) tie-11th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Nathan Begonia (Senior), Zach Dyer (Senior), Max Holmes (Senior), Lionel Whitehead (Senior), T.J. Nakummun (Junior), Foster Nguyen (Junior), Nate Ellington (Sophomore), Liam Piper (Sophomore)

(Girls) Emily Bolduc (Senior), Rachel Haynes (Senior), Juliana Selser (Senior), Madison Smith (Senior), Julia Banks (Junior), Skye Gribbin (Junior), Rhode Niangasa-Phambu (Junior), Grace Caselden (Sophomore), Izzy Chase (Sophomore), Rebekah Hunnewell-Dunphy (Sophomore), Jordyn Hulsey (Sophomore)

Coach Kahill’s comment: “This year, we have solid upperclass leadership, an enthusiastic freshman class and excellent all-around energy and engagement. This team has a lot of potential and will focus on creating all-around depth. We should be competitive throughout the regular season and have the potential for a top five finish at the SMAA championship meet.”

Coach Reardon’s comment: “We’ll be a competitive team in the league. I expect the growth of the team with the additions we have to help make up for the seniors we lost. I can’t wait for the first meet to see how we do. It should be an exciting year. Our goal is to get many athletes qualified for states, do well at Southwesterns and put it all together for the state meet.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland’s indoor track program has reason for optimism heading into the season.

The boys boast many athletes who can score points. Holmes is the top sprinter. He’s joined by Begonia and junior Ben Sivik, who missed last season with injury. Freshmen Ayden Bradford and Frank Tierney add depth. Begonia, Dyer, Nguyen, junior Joseph Emery and freshman Frank Tierney could score in the hurdles. In the longer races, look out for Dyer, Emery, Piper, Whitehead and junior Cliff Robbins-Sennewald. On the field side, Begonia, Bradford, Emery, Holmes, Nguyen and Tierney make up a solid jumping contingent. Ellington is the top thrower. Nakummun is a pole vaulter to watch. Bradford and Tierney will also compete in that event. Look for the Red Riots to show steady improvement, then move up the standings at the state meet.

On the girls’ side, the nonpareil Selser returns to make a run at another state title in the 800 (she holds the state record time of 2 minutes, 16.82 seconds). She’ll lead the way. Caselden, Smith, senior Paige Fleming and sophomores Emily Leeman and Brooklyn Ortiz add depth in the longer races. In the sprints, look out for Banks, Bolduc, Chase, Gribbin, Haynes, Hulsey, sophomore Anna Folley and freshman Iman Adem. Bolduc and Hulsey lead the hurdling contingent. On the field side, Banks, Bolduc, Chase, Gribbin and Haynes take part in the jumps. Hunnewell-Dunphy and Niangasa-Phambu are throwers to watch. Hulsey will compete in the pole vault. Several other girls look to make their mark and add some points. South Portland will impress in the weeks to come.

SWIMMING

Coach: Ryan Green (fifth year)

2016-17 results:

(Boys) 7th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 6th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Jesse Pearlman (Senior), Brayden Gilbert (Junior), Sam Goodine-Doane (Junior)

(Girls) Kristina McCarthy (Senior), Abbie Brier (Sophomore), Margaret Jones (Sophomore), Lyla Metcalf (Sophomore)

Coach’s comment: “The boys will be led by Sam and Brayden, who are state qualifiers in multiple events, and Jesse, who returns as a state scorer in diving. A strong junior class, as well as some young potential, will be key as we improve throughout the season. The girls return six state qualifiers. We’ll take aim at school records in the relays.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland is coming off a strong season and could be just as formidable this winter.

The boys are led by Goodine-Doane, who placed fourth in the 100 free and fifth in the 200 free last season. Gilbert is another swimmer to watch. Pearlman was sixth in diving a year ago and hopes to move up. This squad will show steady improvement and will be heard from in February.

On the girls’ side, Jones (sixth in the individual medley a year ago) is a top returner. She’s joined by the veteran McCarthy and the promising Brier and Metcalf. Diver Glen Ratliff looks to improve on her sixth-place showing from a year ago. Senior Molly Mawhinney, the volleyball standout, along with freshmen Caitlin Bryant and Kiley Matthews, are key newcomers to watch. Another top 10 state meet finish is likely for this group.

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

Senior Riley Hasson is always in the middle of the action for a South Portland boys’ basketball team that hopes to get over the hump and win a state title this winter.

Senior Connor Buckley will be one of South Portland’s top scorers this season.

Senior Liam Coyne is another key returning veteran.

Senior Noah Malone is another sharpshooter for South Portland.

Before taking her show to Saint Anselm, senior Eva Mazur will be a star on offense and defense for the South Portland girls.

Sophomore Maggie Whitmore is a budding superstar who had a terrific freshman season.

Junior Jena Leckie is a top post presence for South Portland.

Look for Bela Cloutier to hit some big shots for the Red Riots this season.

Junior Mitchell Adams will help power the offense of South Portland’s boys’ hockey team, which hopes to make the playoffs again this season.

Gus Lappin saw key minutes as a freshman and will play a key role this winter.

Senior Juliana Selser is one of the state’s premier distance runners.

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