For two long decades, the proud South Portland boys’ basketball program wasn’t able to get to the state final. This winter, the Red Riots got the job done and thanks to the terrific job he did putting the pieces in place and getting his charges to believe, Conley gets our nod as our Southern edition Coach of the Year, of a boys’ team.
Conley also was honored in 2008.
Conley grew up in Portland and played soccer, basketball and baseball at Deering, before going on to play basketball and baseball at New England College in New Hampshire.
Conley began coaching in South Portland in 1991. After three years in Arundel, he returned to South Portland and spent 12 years as the boys’ basketball varsity assistant to Tony DiBiase. He succeeded DiBiase in 2007 and led the Red Riots to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, including the semifinals twice, but this year, everything came together.
South Portland wasn’t viewed as a favorite coming into the year and there were still doubters even after a 15-3 regular season, but was this team ever legit.
Conley got talented senior point guard Tanner Hyland (the school’s Winter Male Athlete of the Year) to pick his spots as a gunslinger and get his talented low post players involved and as a result, the offense was close to unstoppable at times. Conley got the most out of a strong senior class, added sophomore Jaren Muller to the mix and got everyone to believe that this was a team that could do special things.
After holding off the upset bid of ninth-ranked Sanford in the quarterfinals, South Portland got pushed big-time by rival Portland in the semis, but in a game that could have gone either way, the Red Riots finished strong. South Portland was in deep trouble at halftime of the regional final, facing an seven-point deficit against Bonny Eagle, but the Red Riots returned to their ball-sharing ways, got several easy hoops and went on to the victory. While the run ended with a narrow and gutwrenching loss to Hampden Academy in the state game, South Portland had returned to the upper echelon, where the program has often resided over the past century.
Conley also teaches physical education at the elementary school level in South Portland, where he lives with his wife, Kelly. His son, Patrick, was on the Red Riots varsity team this year. His daughter, Shannon, is a top runner. He also has a younger daughter, Kayla, who is in the fourth grade.
South Portland is once again a championship-caliber program and the city is still abuzz. The Red Riots were a lot of fun to watch, defined teamwork and hard work and that all comes back to the man in charge, Phil Conley, our Southern edition Coach of the Year, of a boys’ team.
2011-12 winner: Derek Veilleux (Scarborough track)
2010-11 winner: Jim Ray (Cape Elizabeth basketball)
2009-10 winner: Joe Robinson (South Portland hockey)
2008-09 winner: Derek Veilleux (Scarborough track)
2007-08 winner: Phil Conley (South Portland basketball).
2006-07 winner: Tony DiBiase (South Portland basketball)
2005-06 winner: Jay Mazur (Scarborough hockey)
2004-05 winner: Jason Tremblay (Cape Elizabeth hockey)
2003-04 winner: Jim Ray (Cape Elizabeth basketball)
2002-03 winner: Matt Townsend (Scarborough basketball)
2001-02 winner: Paul Brogan (South Portland indoor track)
For bringing the Capers back from the depths of a 1-5 start and leading them to their first playoff win since 1996, when she was the star player, Casterella earns the honor for the third time in five years.
Casterella (then Chris Roberts) starred in high school, leading Cape Elizabeth to a pair of regional finals. She graduated as the program’s leader in assists and made 3-pointers and remains the second-leading scorer. She went on to play at Colby College and after a year serving as an assistant coach at Scarborough, took over her alma mater in 2007-08, when it wasn’t anywhere close to competitive.
The Capers won just once her first year, but she led them to seven wins in year two. Cape Elizabeth got to the playoffs the next season, but lost in overtime to Falmouth in the preliminary round. In 2010-11, the Capers got to the Expo for the first time, but were routed by eventual champion Leavitt. After dropping to 4-14 last year, Cape Elizabeth set out to be a contender this winter.
Unfortunately, the Capers lost five of their first six games, not exactly a recipe for contention. Casterella had the benefit of two tremendous captains, Winter Female Athlete of the Year Marlo Dell’Aquila and Kisa Tabery, who instigated a team meeting which turned the tide. The turning point actually came Jan. 3 at eventual Class C champion Waynflete, where Cape Elizabeth rallied for a stunning overtime upset win. That set the stage for a first-time-this-century five-game win streak. The Capers then lost two in a row, but wins in four of their final five led to a 10-8 record (the first time Cape Elizabeth won more than it lost since 1996) and the No. 7 seed for the playoffs.
“Last year was a frustrating season,” said Casterella. “I knew this was a make-or-break season. It was great to see (the girls) win to validate their hard work. We came so far. It was such a fun season. The kids love each other. They said it was the best team they’ve been on. They all bought in. That reflects on the seniors.”
The Capers weren’t finished as they hosted Oak Hill in the preliminary round and behind 22 points from Dell’Aquila, rolled to a 19-point win, their first postseason victory since 1996. In the quarterfinals, Cape Elizabeth gave York a scare before falling by eight points.
Through it all, the Capers played like a seasoned, confident team, which responded well to their coach. This group will lose some key seniors, but several top young players return next year and there is now some excitement around the program, which bodes well.
“The middle school players liked watching us,” said Casterella. “They want to play.”
While Cape Elizabeth had promising seasons in the past, but quickly dropped back, it appears the program is now ready to make the jump to consistent contention. As long as program legend and our Southern edition Coach of the Year, Chris Casterella, is in charge, great things are sure to follow.
2011-12 winner: Tom Maines (Scarborough basketball)
2010-11 winner: Chris Roberts (Cape Elizabeth basketball)
2009-10 winner: Jim Seavey (Scarborough basketball)
2008-09 winner: Chris Roberts (Cape Elizabeth basketball)
2007-08 winner: Bre Fortiguerra (Scarborough hockey)
2006-07 winner: Ron Kelly (Scarborough Track)
2005-06 winner: Deven Morrill (Cape Elizabeth Nordic skiing)
2004-05 winner: Ron Kelly (Scarborough Indoor track)
2003-04 winner: Mike Giordano (South Portland basketball)
2002-03 winner: Kerry Kertes (Cape Elizabeth swimming)
2001-02 winner: Tim Kipp (Scarborough swimming)