BAR HARBOR — With a spectacular season record of 18-0, it may seem like the Mount Desert Island High School JV basketball team had winning on the brain.
But that wasn’t the case for Head Coach Matt Umphrey.
“The boys’ focus is winning, and that’s their goal. But it’s never my goal,” said Umphrey. “I’m very competitive, and I like winning as well, but I try to focus on the team goals first, like letting each player get enough playing time even if that means sacrificing a win.”
Fortunately for the Trojans, making those team goals didn’t affect their unbeaten streak.
Nick Duley, Owen Mild, Lucas Keene, Alden Fournier, Kyle Nicholson, Drew Shea, James McConomy, Nick Stanley, Dane Vanzura, Brett Duley and Eli Parady made up the 11-man roster, with Matt Driscoll as manager.
This was the second undefeated season in a row for the five juniors on the team, giving that group a 40-0 record over the past two years.
“We had a really successful season,” Umphrey said. “Record wise, we were 18-0. But more importantly, I think the team stood by our slogan, which was ‘get better today.’”
While the players focused on getting better at basketball every day after school, the coach also asked his players to be better students, better friends, better sons and to be an “all-around being better guy.”
Skill-wise, the players focused on offensive plays against the zone as well as perfecting their defense.
Those skills paid off in the final game of the year at Ellsworth High School, when the Trojans had to squeak out a win against the Eagles.
“The last game of the year was really memorable,” Umphrey said. “The boys knew what was at stake as far as keeping an undefeated season while playing our rivals at Ellsworth.”
The coach said one particular play late in the game exemplified what the team was all about.
The Trojans were on a crucial offensive drive when the ball nearly slipped out of bounds. “We had four different guys dive to save the ball from going out of bounds,” said Umphrey. “It was that amount of determination that is a goosebump moment for a coach, when you realize what they are giving out there.”
Umphrey said one unique aspect of this year’s team was the consistent talent level.
“I had 11 guys, and there wasn’t a lot of difference between who started and who came in later,” he said. “Nothing changed much when guys subbed in. When you get into the bench, most teams might start to slip, but that wasn’t our case.”
With undefeated freshman and JV teams and a state championship-winning varsity team, the MDI High School basketball program has not seen a lot of upward mobility for players at lower levels.
“Players haven’t been able to transition to the varsity level because there are several who earned their spots back,” Umphrey said. That is a good problem to have, said the coach, because there are strong players at all levels.
The JV boys don’t seem to mind.
“After the state final, my guys were coming out on the floor talking about how next year we’re going to get another one as a team,” Umphrey said. “They talked about how they wanted to be a part of [the JV team] again.”