BOYS’ BASKETBALL

Senior Wani Donato is a top returner this winter for Portland’s boys’ basketball team. File photo.

Coach: Joe Russo (32nd year, 436-179 overall record, five state championships)

2019-20 record: 3-16 (Lost, 77-22, to Edward Little in Class AA North quarterfinals) 
2020-21 record
: 3-6 (no postseason, COVID)

Top returning players: Spencer Cross (Senior), Wani Donato (Senior), Jose Kiala (Senior), Pitia Donato (Junior)

Pivotal games: Dec. 10 LEWISTON, Dec. 21 @ Cheverus, Dec. 23 @ Deering, Dec. 30 EDWARD LITTLE, Jan. 4 @ Oxford Hills, Jan. 8 CHEVERUS, Jan. 11 THORNTON ACADEMY, Jan. 14 OXFORD HILLS, Jan. 21 FALMOUTH, Jan. 25 @ Lewiston, Jan. 28 BANGOR, Feb. 1 @ Edward Little, Feb. 8 DEERING, Feb. 10 @ South Portland

Coach’s comment: “It’s good to be back. I like what we have this year. Reflecting back, I hope last year’s seniors realize how well they did under the circumstances. This year, we’ll have to be prepared to count on everyone because you never know who might have to sit out. The key will be staying healthy or changing things to best fit our personnel. We do have size. We’ll have to figure out a point guard. I think it’s South Portland and everybody else, but it should be a fun year.”

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The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s had its share of challenges on and off the court the past couple of seasons, but with the return of a normal season, expect the Bulldogs to return to contention this winter, as this roster boasts a lot of promise.

Cross (sidelined at the season’s onset with mononucleosis) and Wani Donato are returning starters. They can both get the job done from the outside. Pitia Donato is a top guard. Kiala brings size, as does sophomore Jeissy Khamis, another scoring threat.  As the season dawns, either junior Brady Toher or sophomore Pepito Gerumugishu will be in the point guard spot. Junior forwards Aiden Christensen and Sam Esposito, junior guard Kennedy Charles, sophomores Isaak Alkafaji and James Johnson and freshman forward Drew Veilleux will see time as well. Senior Jared Biaya, who stands 6-foot-6, is the wild card. Injured at the start of the season, if he can return, the Bulldogs might be unstoppable.

Portland has its share of question marks, but the answers are on the roster. It will just take time to put all the pieces in place. The Bulldogs, who last posted a winning record in 2018-19, will give all the tough teams on their schedule fits and by the end of the year, when it matters most, they will be very difficult to contend with.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

Senior Elizabeth Yugu has been a part of the recent success of Portland’s girls’ basketball team and will be this year’s spark plug. File photo.

Coach: Abby Hasson (second year)

Top returning players: Naulissa Tuza (Senior), Elizabeth Yugu (Senior), Eliza Stein (Junior)

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Pivotal games: Dec. 21 @ Cheverus, Dec. 23 DEERING, Jan. 6 WINDHAM, Jan. 8 CHEVERUS, Jan. 11 @ Thornton Academy, Jan. 17 @ Windham, Jan. 21 @ Falmouth, Feb. 3 SOUTH PORTLAND, Feb. 7 @ Deering

Coach’s comment: “It’s a very different team this year. We have to figure out how to play without our two superstars. We’re going through some growing pains, but we have good pieces. We have a tough schedule and we’ll have to be ready to play. Our goal is to play our best basketball at the end of the season.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland, which won 49 games over the past four seasons, was arguably hit harder by graduation than any program, as it lost a pair of all-time greats to graduation. While Gemima Motema is now suiting up for Northeastern and Amanda Kabantu is playing at Bentley, the 2021-22 Bulldogs will need to create a new identity and while there will be growing pains, the end result could be a team capable of surprising some of the favorites.

Senior Naulissa Tuza will make life miserable for the opposition on both ends of the floor this winter. File photo.

Yugu will run the point. She’s energetic and can fly up the court, which should lead to some easy baskets. Stein has shown the ability to knock down 3s in prodigious amounts. She’ll be a top scorer this winter. Tuza is a veteran and will be one of the better post players in the region. Senior guard/forward Lainey Randall and junior guard/forward Annie Pozzy will help the cause and three newcomers will look to step right in and make an impact. That group includes sophomore guard/forwards Ainsley MCcrum and Inas Ilaari and freshman Baleria Yugu, who will play a little point guard as the season progresses.

While Portland is in a region with at least three teams (Bangor, Cheverus and Oxford Hills) capable of winning a Gold Ball, and with several others capable of posting winning records, it will back down to no one. The final record won’t be what we’ve grown accustomed to from the Bulldogs, but their style of play will continue to turn heads. By February, Portland will be primed to hold its own against anyone.

BOYS’ HOCKEY (co-op with Deering)

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Senior goalie Ryan Becker is back for Portland/Deering’s boys’ hockey team. File photo.

Coach: Jeff Beaney (sixth year, 42-53-3 overall record)

2019-20 record: 8-12 (Lost, 6-1, to Scarborough in Class A state quarterfinals) 
2020-21 record
: 6-3 (no postseason, COVID)

Top returning players: Ryan Becker (Senior), Carlos Braceras (Senior), Andrew Legere (Senior), Colby Winship (Senior), Liam Fay-LeBlanc (Junior)

Pivotal games: Dec. 15 @ Edward Little, Dec. 18 ST. DOM’S, Dec. 23 @ South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete, Jan. 1 CHEVERUS, Jan. 13 @ Biddeford, Jan. 15 SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 20 @ Falmouth, Jan. 22 @ Cape Elizabeth, Feb. 10 SP/FREEPORT/Waynflete, Feb. 17 BIDDEFORD

Coach’s comment: “It’s fun to be back. We’re young and we have a small team, just 15 skaters, five of them from Deering. Ryan is a top goalie in the area. He makes the coach look smarter. We don’t have a lot of size, but we have a good hockey IQ. We’ll keep plugging away. I think we’ll keep improving as the year goes on.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Portland/Deering co-op team went through an adjustment period a year ago, as Beaney took the season off and Matt King served as coach. The squad was successful on the ice, but the campaign was short and there was no postseason due to COVID. This winter, Portland/Deering returns to normalcy, Beaney returns behind the bench and Portland/Deering hopes to contend in Class A, as it has for several seasons.

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Portland/Deering has the benefit of returning arguably the state’s finest goalie in Becker. Defensively, Braceras is seasoned. He’s joined by Fay-LeBlanc and junior Bennett Galin to make up a formidable unit. Offensively, Legere and Winship should be top scorers. Freshman Lucas Milliken could step right in and become a handful for opposing defenses to deal with. Sophomore Hunter Temple will be heard from as well.

Portland/Deering isn’t getting as much preseason buzz as the likes of Edward Little, Falmouth, Lewiston and Scarborough, but this is a team that no one will want to face in the playoffs. Look for steady improvement in the weeks to come.

GIRLS’ HOCKEY (co-op with Deering)

Coach: Tom Clifford (fifth year, 36-31 overall record)

2019-20 record: 11-8 (Lost, 3-2, to York in South Region quarterfinals
2020-21 record
: 6-3 (no postseason, COVID)

Top returning players: Julia Duggan (Senior), Caitlin Huynh (Senior), Jordan King (Senior), Kate Sawyer (Senior)

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Pivotal games: Jan. 1 CHEVERUS, Jan. 28 @ Scarborough

Coach’s comment: “With the graduation of eight seniors who had an amazing four years playing for Portland/Deering and one player leaving for prep school, we are starting to build the program back. This year, we have 30 girls out for the team, which will allow us to have a JV team to keep more girls involved and playing games. We’re looking for progress each and every day and so far, we’ve been seeing it. The girls come to the rink each day ready to work and have fun and the improvement has been impressive.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Portland/Deering co-op team has good numbers but has to replace some departed standouts this winter. Portland/Deering opened with a 6-0 loss to Biddeford, then was beaten by Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete/South Portland, 10-2, and by York, 12-3, but better days lie ahead.

This year’s offense will be sparked by Duggan, King and promising freshman Jane Flynn, who has already found the net this season. Keep an eye also on sophomores CeCe Blackwell-Moore, Gabby Harrigan and Phoebe Knoll. Defensively, Sawyer is a veteran. Duggan will see time there as well and freshman Zoe Sinnette will also play a key role. Huynh returns in goal.

Portland/Deering has been very competitive in recent seasons. It will take some time for this year’s squad to mesh, but look for steady improvement in the weeks to come. By the time the postseason rolls around, Portland/Deering could be quite dangerous.

INDOOR TRACK

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Boys’ coach: Mony Hang (first year)
Girls’ coach: Frank Myatt (first year)

2019-20 results: Boys’ tie-19th @ Class A state meet; Girls’ no score @ Class A state meet
2020-21 results
: No season, COVID

Top returners:

(Boys) Grant Haron (Senior), Charlie Stacey (Senior), Ben DiYenno (Junior), Oliver Hettenbach (Junior), Twain Huynh (Junior), Nicholas Paterniti (Junior)

(Girls) Vanessa Connolly (Senior), Ana Napijalo (Senior), Jada Stevenson (Junior)

Coach Hang’s comment: “We’re a young team, but the future is very promising for this group of runners.”

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Coach Myatt’s comment: “We’re small and very young, but we’re moving in the right direction. Three-quarters of the girls are freshmen. We’ve very deep in the junior division, especially in the sprints. Our upperclassmen are very good leaders and they’re talented too. We’re learning what it takes to compete. We want to be competitive in league meets. I’m excited about how young we are and how talented our youth is.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s program is good and just getting better and that will be illustrated in the weeks to come.

The boys’ team features a group of up-and-coming sprinters in Haron, juniors Ben Littel and Isaak Muse, sophomores Nathan Blades, Reegan Buck, Ben Prestes and freshmen Barrett Chalmers, Graecen Jepson, Alex Kimble and Ronan Mas. Blades and Chalmers will also compete in the hurdles and middle distance races. Prestes, Stacey, junior Ben DiYenno and sophomore Jason Hargesheimer also run the middle distance. Hettenbach and Paterniti will be competitive in the distance. They’re joined by freshmen Xavier Bradford and Samuel Below-Haskins. On the field side, Hunyh and Littel are throwers to watch. Littel also jumps, along with Blades and Mas.

On the girls’ side, a team on the rise is now coached by Myatt, who coached at Deering for several years before taking over the Portland girls’ cross country squad in the fall. He inherits a squad that could come of age quickly. The proven commodities are Connolly (a top thrower), Napijalo (jumps) and Stevenson (jumps). Sophomore Ruby Jenkins-Henry will be heard from in the sprints and jumps. Four freshmen add depth. Ava Chadbourne and Samantha Moore (Portland’s Fall Athlete of the Year) are top distance threats. Anneliese Collin could score in the jumps and hurdles. Evie Pysher hopes to score in the sprints.

SWIMMING

Coach: Sarah Rasmussen (fourth year)

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2019-20 results: Boys’ tie-18th @ Class A state meet; Girls’ tie-20th @ Class A state meet
2020-21 results
: No state meet (COVID)

Top returners:

(Boys) Fox Fernald (Senior), Beo Endicott (Junior), Chase Gagnon (Junior)

(Girls) Katie Gallagher (Senior), Althea Hoag (Senior), Hadley Hoag (Senior)

Coach’s comment: “The “RamDog” swim team combined last winter and we’re delighted with the response from our athletes to the combination, both this year and last. Even during last winter’s COVID season, the RamDogs fielded 30 athletes, a number that we are presently exceeding for the 2021-22 season. We are excited about the momentum we can build as a new team with a strong senior class and an ambitious and strong freshman class as well. The strength of both our boys’ and girls’ teams this year will come from our depth and ability to come together.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Deering/Portland co-op swim team has one season under its belt and should produce some memorable results this winter, as the sport returns to normalcy, with a full postseason.

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The boys’ squad returns Fernald, who scored at states in the sprint freestyle as a sophomore, and Gagnon, who will be heard from in the individual medley and backstroke. He’ll be competitive again this season. Endicott (sprint free) is also seasoned, while senior Kiron Das looks to score in the distance freestyle and IM.

On the girls’ side, Gallagher scored in the backstroke two years ago. She’ll look to do so again, while also swimming the freestyle this winter. Althea Hoag is a veteran in the breaststroke and IM and Hadley Hoag also has experience in the sprint freestyle. Newcomers to watch include sophomore Maria DelMonte (backstroke) and freshman Anica Spencer (breaststroke) and Kaia West (freestyle).

NORDIC SKIING

Luc Dietlin is a veteran returner for Portland’s talented boys’ Nordic ski team. File photo.

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

2019-20 results: Boys’ 2nd @ Class A state meet; Girls’ 3rd @ Class A state meet
2020-21 results
: No season (COVID)

Top returners:

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(Boys) Luc Dietlan (Senior), Ben Horrisberger (Senior), Toby MacCachran (Senior), George Theall (Senior), Jasper McCarroll-Christmas (Junior), Nathan Milliken (Junior), Daniel Niles (Junior), Douglas Philbrook (Junior), Jack Watson (Junior)

(Girls) Meribel Collin (Senior), Tenley Flint (Junior), Greta Holmes (Junior), Alyssa Sigrfidson (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “With returning veterans and a determined group of sophomores and freshmen, the boys will be looking to defend their 2020 runners-up spot and challenge for the championship. The girls have huge potential with strong returning skiers and five talented freshmen. The girls have their eyes on the podium, after just missing by a few points in 2020. These hard-working and committed skiers have built a wonderful community together, which shows every time they hit the trail. The coaches are very excited for the season ahead, especially with such an amazing and fun group of student-athletes.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Both Portland teams had excellent seasons in 2020 and after missing out on a postseason a year ago, will be heard from again.

The boys’ squad has great numbers, 20 skiers, and return 2020 state meet scorers Horrisberger (fifth in the classic and ninth in the freestyle), Niles (13th in the freestyle and 19th in the classic ), Theall (20th in both the classic and freestyle). Deitlan, MacCachran, McCarroll-Christmas, Milliken, Philbrook and Watson are other veterans who will be in the scoring mix as well.

On the girls’ side, look for big things from veterans Flint (21st in the freestyle as a freshman) and Sigfridson (23rd in the classic two years ago). Collin and Holmes will be heard from as well and seniors Isabelle Moran and Ruby Wolff and junior Molly Neuner will also factor into the mix.

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WRESTLING

Coach: Tony Napolitano (18th year)

2019-20 results: 19th @ Class A state meet
2020-21 results
: No season (COVID)

Top returner: Cherif Rouamba (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “This is a rebuilding year after no having a season last year. We only have one senior on the team and are excited about building a foundation for the future.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland is happy to be back on the mat this winter and looks to set the stage for future success.

Rouamba is the lone veteran. He’ll wrestle at 145 pounds. Freshman Silas Wasklewicz (132 pounds) is a newcomer to watch. Look for this team to show steady improvement as the season progresses.

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

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