BAR HARBOR — Most high school sports coaches can see every play, pass or shot their players take from a nearby sideline or bench area. For Jon Nicholson, that part of the job is a bit tougher.
Nicholson, the coach of the Mount Desert Island High School golf team, spends his fall mornings and early afternoons chasing around a team of a half-dozen players as they play different holes on golf courses throughout eastern Maine. Courses can span miles, and he can only coach players in between holes.
“It’s definitely different than coaching other sports,” Nicholson said. “I don’t always have a golf cart, which means I’m running all over the place.”
Nicholson, though, would be the last person to complain. After leading this year’s MDI team to one of the best finishes in school history, the hours he’s spent chasing down golfers from hole to hole on courses throughout eastern Maine have been more than worth it.
MDI finished the regular season with a record of 27-2 last month, but that was just the start of what was an outstanding year for the Trojans.
The team won the Penobscot Valley Conference championships Sept. 27 and finished second at the Class B state championships this past weekend.
Nicholson knew MDI had a chance to post a big year before the season began in August. The team returned a group of key players that included his son, Kyle, and junior Gabbie James, and it also welcomed the arrival of Peter Ryan, a transfer student from Philadelphia.
“We set a goal before the year that we wanted to win our league, win PVCs and finish in the top half at states,” Nicholson said. “Kyle had gotten better physically and mentally since last season, and with Gabbie getting a year older and more experienced and Peter coming in for us, I was really excited.”
This year’s schedule was one of the busiest in recent memories. The Maine Principals’ Association added more matches to give teams more opportunities to play, and the decision both benefited and hindered the teams.
“They made changes to the schedule to make it more competitive this year, and while it’s been good in that regard, it’s also been challenging because of how much we’re traveling,” Nicholson said. “At one point early on, we were playing four or five matches per week in Calais, Houlton and those places. We had to pull the kids out of school several times.”
Over the course of the season the team found ways to exceed the coach’s wildest expectations. MDI overcame a wet, rainy day at the PVC championships at JaTo Highlands Golf Course in Lincoln to beat Hermon by a whopping 20 strokes, and it posted a 36-hole gross score of 342 at the state championships Saturday at Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro to finish nine strokes behind state champion York.
“I was very surprised we were able to win PVCs by as much as we did, but that’s just a testament to our kids and the perseverance they showed in overcoming those conditions,” Nicholson said. “It was a similar thing Saturday at states because it was cold and early in the morning, but they powered through it.”
Following the teams PVC title win, MDI received two individual awards as Kyle Nicholson was named Class B Golfer of the Year and James was named Class B Female Golfer of the Year. The former finished as medalist for the 11th time this season at the tournament, and the latter joined him as one of three Trojans to qualify for the individual state championships with a 36-hole score of 89.
“The thing about Gabbie was that she played really well for us under pressure this season,” Nicholson said. “She and Kyle are both that way in that they’re at their best when they know they have to have a good tee shot or sink a high-stakes putt. That’s something you appreciate as a coach because you can’t really teach it — it has to come naturally.”
Although the Trojans won’t compete together as a team again this season, the team will send Kyle Nicholson, James and Ryan to the individual state championships Saturday, Oct. 13. The tournament is set to tee off at 10 a.m. at Natanis.
Nicholson and Ryan can qualify for June’s New England championships in Keene, N.H., with top-four finishes in Class B on the boys’ side, and James will qualify for the girls’ competition with a top-12 finish overall. For their coach, a trip to New Hampshire for that tournament next summer would be the cherry on top of a fantastic 2018 season.
“I think all three are in good positions to make it,” Nicholson said. “They know the course from states last month, and they’re playing their best golf toward the end. It’ll be fun to see how it all plays out.”