Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Windham Eagle - December 31, 2015

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Windham's athletic director sums up 2015 seasons and looks to the future - By Rich Drummond

Over the past year at Windham High School, our sports programs have had much success. We have had over two hundred scholar athletes demonstrating success in the classroom. We have had over 50 student athletes place on league and state wide all-star teams for athletic performance. We have had 2015 graduates go on to participate in collegiate athletics and our Windham-Raymond athletic booster club continues to raise funds for our sports programs. We have had two great athletes speak to our communities, Olympian Julia Clukey and former BC hockey player Travis Roy. These two guest speakers provided an excellent message to all in attendance.

 Sportsmanship continues to be a goal for our programs and in one calendar year we have won six MPA sportsmanship banners: Softball, field hockey, boys cross country, girls cross country, volleyball and golf. To win six banners in a year is remarkable but to win five this past fall is unprecedented. It’s a true testament to the hard work of our athletes, coaches and fans on and off the playing surfaces.

 This past fall our volleyball team picked up their first playoff win in school history. Our football team advanced to the regional final and although they fell short to Portland they have qualified for post-season play for eight consecutive seasons. Our golf team qualified for states and placed eighth in Class A. Our boys and girls cross country teams continue to dominate and both had strong performances in the state meet with Ben Breton qualifying for the New England meet. Our girls soccer program lost in the quarterfinals to Kennebunk but what an incredible 3-year run they have had. Our field hockey and boys soccer team did not compete in post-season play but should be commended for their strong performances.

 We are right in the midst of our winter sports season and our hockey team is leading the way. They are currently undefeated at 5-0 and last year qualified for post season for the first time in school history. Our girls’ basketball team is fighting for a playoff spot and so is our boys’ basketball team under new coach Chad Pulkkinen. At this point in December several swimmers and indoor track athletes have qualified for states and our alpine ski team is crossing their fingers for snow as they open up after Christmas break. Our wrestling team despite small numbers is competing every week and our winter cheering team is getting ready for their competition season.

 Looking forward to the spring we have many teams that should be successful. We anticipate both boys and girls lacrosse to be strong along with our boys and girls tennis teams. Baseball should have a successful season along with our rejuvenated softball program that qualified for post-season play in 2015 for the first time in seven years. It goes without saying that we will have many state qualifiers for outdoor track. As the snow starts to fly we can’t help to plan and think of the spring season and the successes.

 As the RSU14 athletic director and community member it gives me much pleasure to say that through the districts athletic programming we provide our communities with the opportunity to root for successful programs. There are a lot of accomplishments on and off the playing surfaces and important life long lessons that are taught through the athletic experience.

JSMS basketball large in numbers, large in heart - By Jim Beers

The Jordan-Small Middle School, (JSMS), basketball teams have kicked off their seasons. JSMS features four teams as there is an A and B team for both girls and boys.

 Starting with the B girls team, coached by Lynne Estey, they have gotten off to a 1-1 start. The team beat Buckfield in their first game, and lost to NYA on Tuesday.

 "We are large in numbers, but large in heart as well," said coach Estey. "They are a great, cohesive group, led by my three captains, Ashlee Bernier, Danessa Jackson and Norma Easter. We have a great balance of experience and youth, I'm excited to see them progress the rest of the way," she said.

 Estey brought in four sixth graders, Ellie Miller, Sara Hare, Sorcha Shalom and Amanda Foss, to help round the team out, and they have stepped right in to be contributors. Seventh graders are Lily Benton, Hailey Landman, Kaylee Welch, Ember Young, Arianna Tripp, along with the captains, Bernier, Jackson and Easter.

 The B boys team is coached by Gary Stone, and assisted by coaches John Dionne and player/coach AJ Mains. They also are off to a 1-1 start. Losing the first game of the season to Buckfield, the boys bounced back on Tuesday against NYA, with a buzzer-beating shot by Robbie Soucy to secure a thrilling 26-24 victory.

 "We are young and learning," said coach Stone. "We are
making great strides and I like that we are getting better as we go, even if that doesn't translate into a win," he added. The B boys are very athletic and play hard on both ends of the floor. Players are Cam Wescott, Alec Brooks, Nathan Plummer, Jayson Plummer, Louden Greene, Mark Gedicks, Trenton Valeriani, Soucy and Mains. Wescott is a full time swing player up to the A team as well. Soucy and Plummer, (Nathan), have also enjoyed A team call ups so far.

 The A girls are off to a hot start, going 2-1 in their first three games. Coached by John Powers, the Lady Roadrunners feature an aggressive defense and sharp shooting on the offensive end. Players are Ellie and Whitney Wilson, Callie and Shyler Fielding, Lyndsey MacDonald, Lexie Bailey, Makenna Colby and Hailey Applebee.

 "They work well together and play as a team," said coach Powers. "They work really hard in practice and it shows during the game. I'm excited to see what we can do the rest of the way," he added.

 The A boys ran into two powerhouse teams, (Lake Region and Waynflete), to start the year, but did get a nice win in their last game over Old Orchard Beach, to improve to 1-2 so far. The boys are young and inexperienced, but work hard game in and game out. They are coached by Jim Beers and Lynn Campbell. Players are seventh graders Niall Gushue, Dominick Campbell and swing player from the B team, Cam Wescott. Eighth graders are Ivan Kaffel, Lucas Pongratz, Ben Childs, Brendan Saunders, Jack Hutchinson and Davis Kinney. Kaffel has led the team in scoring every game.

 "The boys play with heart and are getting stronger as we go. We as coaches couldn't be happier and more proud of the effort so far," said coach Campbell.

 PIC 1:-- JSMS B boys in action vs. NYA.

Eagles soar over the Knights - By Stephanie Coffin

Windham Eagles boys’ varsity has started their season with a new coach and a new game play. As coach Pulkkinen learns about his team’s individual strengths and weaknesses, character and heart – the team learns to accept a new way, new ideas and embrace a new outlook.

 The Eagles have played four games to date and the teams record is 2-2. Both Deering and Cheverus games were losses for the Eagles and they were also a good learning experience. As with any new season the team needs to learn to work together and trust one another on the court and believe in the coaches plays. Though this team is young with three seniors, six juniors, six sophomores and one freshman, look for this team to bond and become a notable team to watch.

 Hosting and winning against the Lewiston Blue Devils gave the Eagles their first win of the season and just enough encouragement that would work in their favor to move on. Most recently the Eagles traveled to Berwick to face the Noble Knights. The Eagles came off the bench ready to play and owned the court in the first quarter of the game leading 24-8.

 The second quarter drew some fouls on both sides with the Eagles still dominating and ending the first half of the game 41-19. The Eagles found their groove early in the game and kept the teamwork together throughout. The third quarter saw much of the same ending with the Eagles ahead 71-35. The entire Eagles bench contributed to the scoreboard and they walked away with their second win of the season 86-47.
 The Eagles next game is against Oxford Hills on Saturday the 19th at home. First team plays at 10 a.m., the J.V. team will play at 11:30 a.m. and the varsity team will tip off at 1 p.m.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Athlete of the week - Alexis Hirning

Seventh grader Alexis Hirning is the Aroma Joe’s athlete of the week. The 12-year-old attends Windham Middle School and plays basketball and lacrosse. 

Her favorite sports hero is Sarah Assante. 

“Alexis is a strong leader for her age. She knows the game well and is a great leader on and off the court. She likes to work hard, but does it while keeping things fun,” said coach Deb LeBel. 

Alexis balances school and sports with good time management skills, she said. She will need those skills because she would like to go to college to study law. 

As far as teamwork goes, her philosophy is “playing together produces a team win.” 

She lives with her parents Alicia and Fred and her brother Logan.

Windham and Westbrook hockey combine into one team - By Jim Beers

The Class A North division for southern Maine high school hockey will feature a brand new team with some familiar faces this season. Westbrook and Windham High Schools have agreed to merge their hockey programs into one varsity team, with numbers leftover to form a junior varsity (JV) squad, as well as two middle school teams. Both schools and communities are excited at the opportunity to further their respective programs, together, as Windham-Westbrook Ice Hockey (WWIH).

Communications director for the program Dave Lorenzatti spoke of the potential and concerns for the programs merging. "There are some great benefits in doing so, but there are some challenges that come along with it as well. A big challenge is creating its new identity and getting the word out to the communities, media and students. Since there are athletes from both communities, it's important to maintain the Windham-Westbrook locale of the name. Obviously, however, we can't keep the name of the Blue Blazes or Eagles anymore. The program and athletes will benefit greatly from the merger, or co-op as it's been called. We now need to let the communities know who we are and that we still need their support," he said. 
WWIH varsity head coach Greg LeClair brings 35 years of hockey experience to the team. He is ably backed up by varsity assistants Matt Curran and Steve Pasquine. Coach Curran finished his college career at Stoneville University as one of the top scorers in the school’s history, and Coach Pasquine played club hockey at the University of Maine. JV head coach Zac Barrett played in goal before becoming a defenseman in high school, and then played club hockey at Ithaca College. Barrett will be assisted by Travis Grant. 

"The staff complements each other well," said LeClair.

To get all the important information regarding this merger of two Class A teams, we asked Coach LeClair, WWIH organization president Randy Chenard, Westbrook High School Athletic Director Michael Connolly, and Windham High School Athletic Director Rich Drummond to engage in a Q&A.
Coach LeClair:

How have the players taken to the merger?
"By and large, the players have just treated it like any other team they've ever played for. The major difference coming into the season is that for both schools, kids have always made the varsity roster because of the low participation numbers at both schools. For some players, there was a sense of uncertainty that they had not experienced before. When we announced the varsity roster there were a few loud exhales from the kids that were not sure where they'd end up."

What are the benefits of a combined program?
"The benefits are numerous. Added depth throughout the lineup, the addition of a JV team to allow kids to play at the level appropriate to them, player accountability, etc."

What's the biggest challenge you and your coaching staff face this season?
"The biggest challenge has been redefining roles for players that differ greatly from roles they have held previously. With both teams having limited numbers, a lot of kids were used to being counted on by their coach to play a more significant role. For some that is no longer going to be the case. It's a short term challenge that will iron itself out over time, but it can be hard for a player that has seen their role change dramatically." 

How are you building a strong team out of a group of players who have been fierce rivals up to now?
"We've had to make it clear to the kids that there is one common goal for this team. To win games, make the playoffs, and see where it takes us. With that said, the kids were put on notice after a minor dust-up over the summer, that if they ‘couldn't play nice in the sandbox’ there would be a seat in the stands for them this winter. The kids took it to heart and we've had no issues so far."

Last year was the best season in the short history of Windham HS hockey, what do you expect from the combined team this season?
"We expect to take the next step. While we made the playoffs last year, we fell short of our goal of being an above .500 team. In the playoffs we essentially fought from the ropes the entire game, hoping to land a counter-punch or two that never came. This year, we again expect to be an above .500 team, and anything short of a playoff appearance will be a disappointment."

WWIH organization president Randy Chenard:
Why did both organizations decide to merge?
"The mission of the Windham Ice Hockey program has been to make ice hockey available to as many kids as possible. To do so, we needed to build a sustainable program that required the least amount of money from each family to play. Looking forward over the next several years, while the Windham program has been growing substantially, the number of kids that play hockey in Windham/Raymond wasn't going to be enough to reduce the costs to play, making it cost prohibitive for too many kids. Westbrook has had similar challenges with their numbers of players, so the merger made a ton of sense. We can combine hockey resources across both communities and give many more kids an opportunity to play."

How is it being received by players and parents?
"It's been great. Lots of these kids and the parents have known each other for years as the kids have grown up playing together in other youth hockey leagues so there was already built in comradery. Many Westbrook and Windham/Raymond kids had already been playing together at the middle school level for the last couple of years, so there was very little transition there. As for the high school kids...they began bonding as soon as they began playing together over the summer. Now that they are practicing together at 5:30 a.m. and facing off against other teams, they really seem to be gelling. Parents have been working together really closely to get the new program off the ground and running."

Westbrook High School athletics and activities director Michael Connolly:
Windham and Westbrook athletics are big rivals, how was this decision to merge reached?
"The conversation was initiated by Westbrook. Our participation numbers were such that we could not support a varsity team. The skill set of many of our student-athletes created a potential safety issue for many of the kids as they were being introduced to the sport for the first time at the varsity level. While we may have been best-served to follow a strictly JV schedule, this was not a fair option to the varsity-caliber players. I was aware that Windham’s participation numbers were also below average, coupled with the fact that we are neighboring communities and some of our middle school kids have played on a combined team, this opportunity seemed to be a win-win proposition for both communities."

How is the merger being received by other schools/programs?
"The community is very pleased with the merger. The student-body is excited to support a more competitive team and the players, themselves, are giving tremendously positive feedback about the experience, thus far. We are promoting this like all of our other programs. We have a strong social media presence and it will be utilized to support all of our athletic teams. I think the students will support this program as they do all of our other teams. They will be avid spectators and as success builds, so will the excitement surrounding it."

Windham High School athletic director Rich Drummond:
What is Windham HS doing to promote the program?
"Windham HS will promote hockey the same way we do with our other sports and activities. We use social media and notifications around school. We also rely on the programs to self-promote. From an equity standpoint, the athletic department has to approach promotion of teams on an even balance."

What can the schools and students do to support the program?
"From a support standpoint, attendance at games is important and cheering appropriately is more important. This team is one unit and supporting it as one is vital for the success of all. I'm very pleased with the work that has been done to provide an opportunity for our athletes in both communities. It’s a benefit for both schools and it’s my hope and intent that this relationship will prove to be a great success."

The team will play their home games at the University of Southern Maine's Gorham campus. This major group effort has this program ready for the 2015-2016 campaign. 

Supporting the team by attending a game is the best way for the communities to help the program.
“The players feed off the energy in our home rink and with the added jump they get from it, makes it difficult for our opponents. If we play with discipline and tenacity, we are going to be a tough team to beat,” said LeClair.

"I think you'll see that be the common theme from everyone, myself included, is 'fill the stands',” said Lorenzatti.  “We will be more competitive this season than we have in past years and now that we have the athletes fully engaged in the program, our hope is to get the student and community support by helping fill the stands," said Lorenzatti.

The team will be doing a bottle drive on New Year’s Day to help fund the program, so people are encouraged to save their returnables to help.  

The excitement has been building as the team starts the season with two home games this week, Wednesday and Saturday, with Saturday's game at 7:50 p.m, vs. GNG/Poland/Oak Hill, at USM Gorham campus.

Windham swim teach welcomes new coach, Kyle Rasmussen

The Windham High School swim team welcomes new leadership in the form of new head coach Kyle Rasmussen to the 2015-'16 season. Bringing a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm to the program, Rasmussen is excited to get started. He will be assisted by coaches Brett Turenne and Kevin Roy.

Rasmussen was born and raised in Wisconsin, swimming all four years in high school for a club team, and another four while attending Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. After studying Neuroscience and Psychology at Carthage, Rasmussen and his wife Sarah moved to Maine and he started graduate studies in Physical Therapy at the University of New England. While swimming and furthering his education, Rasmussen coached the Moho Gators Swim Team in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. 

"Swimming has taught me a lot of lessons in my life, and would like to be able to extend that to the student athletes at Windham,” said Rasmussen. “Athletic director Rich Drummond and the rest of the staff at Windham have been extremely helpful and supportive as I have started. My assistant coaches Brett and Kevin are great with the swimmers and bring excitement to each and every practice. We have a good mix of young and experienced swimmers this year. I have been impressed with their work ethic, leadership skills, and the atmosphere that they are able to create at practice. It is going to be a fun and exciting season as we work each day to improve."