BAR HARBOR — While students have yet to return to classrooms, practice fields have come alive ahead of what is sure to be an exciting fall sports season.
While many Mount Desert Island High School programs are looking to build on successful outings last fall, there has been some turnover at the top for a few of those teams.
For instance, the football team will see a new, yet familiar, face take over the reins as head coach. Mark Shields, who ran the program for 15 years before stepping down as head coach in 2017, will run the show once again as the team looks to improve on a somewhat tumultuous first season as an 8-man program.
Shields, who has worked as an assistant coach under Mark Arnold the last three seasons, will be leading an 8-man team for the first time in his career. But the shift in strategy is not something that phases the veteran coach.
“As far as the day-to-day practice schedules and teaching specific skills for specific positions, it’s all the same,” Shields explained. “Overall strategy is where it’s a little different. I wouldn’t say it’s much different, but obviously it is different because you’re working with eight players instead of eleven.”
Shields plans to run the defense again this year with Arnold, now an assistant coach, maintaining control of the offense.
“My entire career I’ve been on the offensive side of the ball. But I like the challenge,” said Shields.
The team, with a roster of over 30 students, saw its first game action during a controlled scrimmage at Stearns Aug. 22. Shields says the starters ran about 40 plays on both sides of the ball and that he was pleased with the intensity, though there is still a lot of coaching to do ahead of the season opener. He was also pleased with the depth the team has despite having players with varied levels of experience.
“We’re returning six seniors and another six or seven juniors, so we do have some solid upperclassmen,” said Shields. “Most of those kids have played all the way up through our [Acadian Youth Sports] system. We have some real experienced kids and some kids who have never played football before, so it’s a real interesting mix.”
The Trojans will scrimmage against defending 8-Man Small champions Dexter on Aug. 26 before their final preseason contest against Spruce Valley Sept. 3. They will open the regular season at home against Waterville.
“Our biggest goal is we want to be competitive in every contest and play hard in every contest and then let the chips fall where they may,” said Shields.
The girls’ soccer team also has a familiar face in a new place as they gear up for their regular season opener at Old Town on Sep. 3. Longtime head coach of the boys’ soccer program, Tyler Frank, stepped down from his position last fall, and then stepped up to replace coach May Chan when the position became available.
“It was not actually a planned switch,” Frank explained. “I resigned from the MDIHS boys’ program at the end of last season in anticipation of our new baby girl born in February. In the spring, I realized I wouldn’t be hearing the thud of soccer balls from players showing up for tryouts in the fall and recognized I was not ready to stop coaching. I talked with my family and got the support to continue coaching if an opportunity presented itself.”
“Tyler is very knowledgeable of the community’s and school’s expectations and brings many years of experience coaching soccer at the varsity level,” said MDI Athletic Director Bunky Dow when the hire was announced in the spring.
Frank says the switch from coaching the boys’ game to the girls’ game has been great so far. He hasn’t changed the way he approaches the fundamentals of coaching, making sure that all players are conditioned for 90-plus minutes of soccer and possess the fundamental skills necessary to move the ball in the intended direction. Outside of the fundamentals of the game, Frank says his goal was to go in with an open mind.
“I reached out to other coaches and had conversations about what I might expect,” Frank explained. “I went into the position with a mindset that the girls and I would learn from each other.”
Frank has also been able to lean on the experience of assistant coach Gwendolyn Joy, who was with the team last year. And he has inherited a roster full of experienced players who made a surprise run all the way to the Class B regional championship match last year as a 10-seed, where they ultimately fell to Hermon.
“The entire roster of both varsity and JV players has me excited for our matches this season,” said Frank. “With our system of play, I would look for scoring and defending from any player.”
The volleyball team, under head coach Corey Papadopoli, will look to build on a very strong season, which saw the Trojans go 5-1 in regional play before losing to the eventual state champs, Yarmouth, in the semi-finals.
“Last year was an up-and-down season for us,” said Papadopoli. “We struggled with some team issues early on but worked hard to overcome those. The team played its best volleyball at the end of the season and propelled itself into the Class B semifinal match. Unfortunately, we fell short. But, considering how we started, it would have been hard to imagine we would have gotten that far.”
The team returns six seniors and one junior to its varsity squad, adding another four juniors this summer. With that level of consistency from year to year, the group is poised for another deep playoff run.
“The group feels more cohesive, the returning players’ skills have all improved and I think we are already in a better place than we were last season,” Papadopoli explained. “We had a good showing at a preseason tournament at Greely this past Saturday and hope to build on that next Saturday in Falmouth.”
As for the rest of the fall sports, the boys’ soccer team will attempt to improve on their quarter-final exit in last year’s playoff under new head coach Max Mason. Desiree Sirois will return to run cross-country, while Bryan Maurais steps in to take over the golf program.