Senior Stillman Mahan made arguably the biggest shot in Portland boys’ basketball history last winter, as his buzzer-beater shocked Deering in the quarterfinals. Mahan is a seasoned veteran on this year’s young squad. File photo

BOYS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Joe Russo (30th year, 430-157 overall record, five state championships)

2018-19 record: 11-9 (Lost, 61-41, to eventual champion Bangor in Class AA North semifinals)

Top returning player: Stillman Mahan (Senior)

Pivotal games: Dec. 6 BANGOR, Dec. 20 EDWARD LITTLE, Dec. 23 @ Cheverus, Dec. 30 CHEVERUS, Jan. 4 DEERING, Jan. 7 SOUTH PORTLAND, Jan. 9 @ Bangor, Jan. 14 GORHAM, Jan. 17 @ Thornton Academy, Jan. 30 @ Edward Little, Feb. 6 @ Deering

Coach’s comment: “We have no expectations this year. We’re having fun. A lot of coaching and learning. The kids are new. We have almost no varsity experience. The kids are picking things up little by little. We’re going to stick with the older kids because of their physicality. Our goal this year is to progress, build experience and hopefully be at our best as the end of the year.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: It’s a brand new day in Bulldogs Nation this winter, as for the first time in a long, long time, the varsity program is essentially starting from scratch. Portland returns just one player who saw much time in 2018-19, although he made the biggest shot of the season and one of the biggest in program history, and while this group will be a work in progress, no one is more notorious for getting a team to improve over the course of a season than Russo. This might be his biggest challenge to date, however.

Mahan, whose improbable buzzer-beater shocked Deering in last year’s epic regional quarterfinal, is the lone returner. He’ll play guard and will be leaned upon to put the ball in the basket. After that, there’s a whole lot of uncertainty, but there are several athletes eager to make their mark. Senior forward Richard Greenwood saw very limited varsity time a year ago, but will step into a key role in the front-court. He’ll be joined by seniors Finn Katz-Cronin and Ethan Thea (who was injured a year ago). Senior Matt McDowell, who was on the junior varsity team last winter, 6-foot-5-inch senior Kevin Smart, 6-1 senior Elias Antonio, 6-2 junior Jackson Harris, 6-5 sophomore Jared Biaya, junior Sam Gerber and sophomore Spencer Cross give the Bulldogs size. Two new guards show promise. Sophomore Wani Donato will be a ball-handler and could be a scorer. Freshman Pitia Donato will also get some time. Junior Jacob Bouchard will also be in the back-court. Juniors Cooper Bay and Gabe Russell could be in the mix for varsity time as well.

For years, Portland was a proven commodity and for much of the past decade, the Bulldogs have been viewed as the team to beat. That’s not the case this winter. Teams will have an opportunity to take out some pent up frustration on Portland which has built up over many seasons, but you might want to get the Bulldogs early. The coaching staff will figure it out as the year progresses and while Portland might not boast its usual gaudy record, it will be primed to spring an upset when the tournament rolls around.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

Junior Amanda Kabantu is dynamic and talented and poised to lead Portland’s girls’ basketball team to big things this winter. File photo.

Coach: Gerry Corcoran (third year, 23-17 overall record)

2018-19 record: 10-10 (Lost, 47-36, to eventual champion Oxford Hills in Class AA North semifinals)

Top returning players: Kiera Eubanks (Senior), Davina Kabantu (Senior), Amanda Kabantu (Junior), Mia Kelley (Junior), Gemima Motema (Junior), Elizabeth Yugu (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 13 @ Oxford Hills, Dec. 17 SCARBOROUGH, Dec. 23 @ Cheverus, Dec. 30 CHEVERUS, Jan. 4 DEERING, Jan. 7 @ South Portland, Jan. 15 @ Gorham, Jan. 23 OXFORD HILLS, Feb. 6 DEERING

Coach’s comment: “This is the first time we’ve started out healthy. The girls have been working really hard. We’ve been building to this. We’ll spread the floor and move and play our game. We’ll see if teams can handle our pressure and athleticism. We have lofty goals. We want the Gold Ball.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s has shown glimpses of greatness the past couple seasons, but injuries to key players has doomed the Bulldogs’ hopes. This winter, Portland’s talent is undeniable and if the injury Gods smile upon them, the Bulldogs might be in for a special season.

Good luck stopping the dynamic, athletic triumvirate of Motema, Amanda Kabantu and Davina Kabantu, all of whom are garnering a lot of interest from colleges. Amanda Kabantu and Motema were both league all-stars a year ago and Kabantu was also named to the All-Defensive team. Kabantu (14.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game last winter) and Motema (2.5 steals per contest in 2018-19) are both impossible to stop when they get a full head of steam heading to the basket and both can hit shots from the outside. Davina Motema is the ball-handler, who can finish as well, but is best setting up teammates (2.3 assists per game last year). Kelley and Yugu will also be difficult to contain in the backcourt. Eubanks, who was injured most of last season, is back healthy and will be a force in the frontcourt. Junior forward Mirielle Tona and sophomores Naulissa Tuza and Lina Wataki will look to play bigger roles this winter and freshmen Kate Martell and Eliza Stein could step right in and also make an impact.

While defending state champion Oxford Hills remains the favorite in Class AA North, Portland could be every bit the Vikings’ equal. This squad will be fun to watch as it races up and down the floor. The Bulldogs’ ceiling is high. This could be one of the most memorable campaigns in program history before all is said and done.

BOYS’ HOCKEY

Junior Dante Tocci will put plenty of pressure on opposing defenses this winter. File photo.

Coach: Jeff Beaney (fifth year, 34-41-3 overall record)

2018-19 record: 10-11 (Lost, 3-2, to Biddeford in Class A South Final)

Top returning players: Miki Silva (Senior), Whit Steele (Senior), Max Cheever (Junior), Dante Tocci (Junior), Ryan Becker (Sophomore), Carlos Braceras (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec 12 SP/FREEPORT/WAYNFLETE, Dec. 19 BIDDEFORD, Dec. 31 @ Biddeford, Jan. 2 SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 4 @ Cheverus, Jan. 27 @ St. Dom’s, Feb. 1 FALMOUTH, Feb. 5 @ Lewiston, Feb. 8 @ Falmouth, Feb. 15 @ SP/Freeport/Waynflete

Coach’s comment: “We have a lot of young guys. It’s a rebuilding year, but we’ll have fun. We may start out slow, but our attitude is good and we’ll progress during the course of the season and have the potential to have a say in the playoffs. By the end, a lot of teams won’t want to play us.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Portland/Deering co-op team came within a goal of playing for a state title a year ago and after losing several key players to graduation, including Travis Roy Award semifinalist Donnie Tocci and all-state selection Jake Luce, have some holes to fill. The Bulldogs will have their hands full with the top teams in the state, but should again be able to compete with most of the squads on the schedule.

Portland/Deering returns Becker in goal. He’s supported by Cheever, who was a second-team all-state selection last winter, along with Braceras. The top offensive line will likely consist of Silva, Steele and Dante Tocci. Juniors Nick Becker and Nick McGonagle (the team’s lone Ram) and sophomore Colby Winship will play bigger roles in the offense this year. Junior Peter Gribbin and freshman Ryland Silva will provide depth on defense.

Portland/Deering is primed to make another run and while it won’t be an easy road, don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs find their way to Lewiston come late February.

GIRLS’ HOCKEY

Junior Caroline Lerch is a top scorer for the competitive Portland/Deering girls’ hockey squad. File photo.

Coach: Tom Clifford (third year, 19-20 overall record)

2018-19 record: 5-14 (Lost, 7-1, to Falmouth in South Region quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Elena Clifford (Senior), Zoe Cheever (Junior), Kim Clifford (Junior), Lucy Howe (Junior), Caroline Lerch (Junior), Margaret Smith (Junior)

Pivotal games: Dec. 11 @ Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete/SP, Dec. 18 CHEVERUS, Dec. 21 @ Scarborough, Jan. 4 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “With a team light on experience, our returning players have been leading the way for the younger players with their work ethic and determination. We will be looking to see weekly improvement  from all of the girls and hopefully as the season progresses, the hard work they have put in both on and off the ice will put us in a position to have a chance at postseason play.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Portland/Deering co-op team has a lot of new faces this winter, but there is some real talent on the roster and the Bulldogs could be primed for a move up the standings. Portland/Deering opened the year with wins over Brunswick (8-1) and York (3-1), a loss to Yarmouth/Freeport (1-0, in overtime) and a second win over York (5-4). The offense will be paced by Lerch (who scored 24 goals and had 11 assists last winter and already has 10 goals this season). Howe (10 assists last year, four goals and three assists this season) and Smith (five assists last winter) are other veteran scorers. Juniors Emma Harrigan and Rose Stait will step in and help the offensive cause as well. Defensively, Cheever, Elena Clifford and Kim Clifford (who had 11 assists a year ago) will be the anchors in front of junior Anna Gannon and sophomore Caitlin Huynh, who will each see time in goal

Portland/Deering isn’t at the top of the list of South Region favorites, but the Bulldogs will be in the playoff hunt. Look for a better win-loss record this winter and if the pieces fall into place, Portland/Deering might just surprise some folks and make a playoff run.

INDOOR TRACK

Coach: Bill LeRoy (third year)

2018-19 results:

(Boys) tie-14th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 16th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Wyatt Dana (Senior), Nate Fogg (Junior), Basilio Mangambo (Sophomore)

(Girls) Alexis Fiore (Senior), Vanessa Connolly (Sophomore), Ana Napijalo (Sophomore)

Coach’s comment: “Our numbers are down this year and we’re very young. I’d like to see steady improvement this season. I want to see some of the kids be able to score at states.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s program hopes to be more about quality than quantity this winter and you’ll be hearing from some individuals in the weeks to come.

The boys’ team is led by Dana in the distance events, Fogg in the sprints and Mangambo in the jumps.

On the girls’ side, Fiore is a top jumper, Napijalo will contend in the jumps as well and Connolly is a thrower to watch (she was seventh in the shot put last season).

SWIMMING

Coach: Kyle Rasmussen (second year)

2018-19 results:

(Boys) 5th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 26th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Max Orchow (Senior), Kiron Das (Sophomore)

(Girls) Julia Ayer (Senior), Corry Hemond (Senior)

Coach’s comment: “We have a vastly changed roster this year due to graduation as well as students chasing other pursuits, so we are not sure where we will stack up against our competition. It’s an exciting time for this team to establish a new identity and grow as a unit. We hope to build off our first couple weeks of practice as everyone is really buying in, focusing and working hard as a team. We hope to establish as many best times as possible and build into a highly competitive team come Southwesterns and states.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland has some promising swimmers to keep an eye on this winter.

The boys have enjoyed a couple very strong seasons, but graduation has taken its toll. This year’s team will be led by Orchow, who was part of strong 200 freestyle and medley relay teams a year ago. He’ll be heard from in the 100 free and 100 butterfly. Das (distance) and freshman Chase Gagnon (multiple events) provide depth and will keep the Bulldogs competitive.

On the girls’ side, Ayer (50 free) and Hemond (individual medley) are the veterans. Freshman Delaney Black joins the team and looks to score in the breaststroke.

NORDIC SKIING (co-op with Cheverus and Deering)

Coach: George Aponte-Clarke (third year, one state championship)

2018-19 results:

(Boys) 3rd @ Class A state meet

(Girls) Class A state champions

Top returners:

(Boys) Liam Niles (Senior), Luc Dietlin (Sophomore), Ben Horrisberger (Sophomore), Tobey MacCachran (Sophomore), George Theall (Sophomore)

(Girls) Lucy Medd (Senior), Elizabeth Thomas (Senior), Meribel Collin (Sophomore), Georgia Littell (Sophomore), Anna Viola (Sophomore)

Coach’s comment: “Our crew of skiers has grown tremendously over the past few seasons. This means we have a very young team with a lot of potential for growth and development over the years ahead. Our young crew is lead by a talented group of accomplished upperclassmen who were among the state’s best skiers last season. The team is already jelling after just a few practices, showing once again how supportive this multi-school team is of one another. Strong bonds have developed over their deep love for Nordic skiing. This all bodes well for a fun and action-packed season ahead.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland High skiers look to lead this impressive co-op team to another triumphant season.

The girls’ squad won a state title for the first time a year ago and two top scorers are back. Medd was 10th in both the classic and the skate and after a strong cross country running season (she was Portland’s Fall Female Athlete of the Year), she looks to place higher. Thomas placed 15th in the skate last season and could also move up. A solid young core, Collin, Littell and Viola, along with freshmen Annabelle Brooks, Tenley Flint and Greta Holmes, will provide depth.

On the boys’ side, Niles (ninth in the classic and 11th in the skate last year) and Horrisberger (11th in the classic, 12th in the skate) return to help the Bulldogs remain a top contender. Dietlin, MacCachran and Theall look to make an impact, while freshmen Nico Millones, Daniel Niles and Jack Watson make the squad that much stronger.

WRESTLING

Coaches: David Elowitch and Tony Napolitano (17th year)

2018-19 results: 11th @ Class A state meet

Top returners: Abdullah Abdullah (Senior), Theo Burns (Senior), Shamus Cole (Junior), Malcolm Gartland (Junior), Anthony Napolitano (Junior)

Coach Elowitch’s comment: “After losing some key talent last year, we’re looking to rebuild with lots of young talent. A strong junior class will provide a base for the team to grow around. Look for us to slowly improve throughout the season and strive to place at the first ever team dual meet.  Our individual goal is to place five at states, with three going on to New Englands.  We will hope to win 75 percent of our dual meets.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland (which again is a co-op squad with South Portland) has the pieces in place to be very competitive this winter.

Gartland is the top returner. He was second in Class A a year ago and captured the regional title. He’ll wrestle at 195 pounds. Other key returners include Abdullah (152), Burns (170) and Cole (138).Others to watch include juniors Jaiden Robinson-Handley (120) and Colby Wyman (220), freshmen Finnian O’Donnell (145) and Ishmael Sylvester (126), as well as junior Anunthaya MacDonnell, a Falmouth wrestler who won the female state title at 120 pounds last year.

The Bulldogs have what it takes to put some individuals on the podium and move into the top 10 at the state meet.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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