BAR HARBOR — The last time the Mount Desert Island High School varsity boys’ basketball team played a competitive game, it walked away from the Augusta Civic Center in February with a state championship trophy after posting a 59-39 win over Wells. When the Trojans take the floor again this weekend, the team will have a much different look.
Nine seniors have graduated from the MDI boys’ team that made history when it became the first to win a state championship. To defend their title, the Trojans are relying on another senior class, one that has potential but also is less experienced as a result of the time their older counterparts spent on the floor last year.
“It’s definitely been a challenge for us because it’s always going to be when you lose that many players,” said Coach Justin Norwood. “It’s been a bit of a learning curve so far, but I also think we have some guys back who are going to provide leadership and have us competing right away.”
In addition to Mr. Basketball finalist Riley Swanson, MDI must replace Graham Good, Gus Reeves, Aaron Snurkowski, Jimmy Carroll, Russell Kropff, Mac Shea, Drew Rich and Devin Parlatore. With each of those seniors playing significant minutes last season, the Trojans were one of the state’s deepest teams.
Only one starter, senior Andrew Phelps, returns from last season. Phelps was the leading scorer in the team’s Class B championship game victory.
“I think things are coming together, but we’re obviously a little inexperienced right now,” Phelps said. “It’s going to take some time, but our hope is that by midseason or late in the year — more toward playoff time — we can be where we want to be.”
Other MDI players returning from last year’s team include Drew Shea, Derek Collin, Colby Lee and James McConomy.
“We have a lot of seniors returning, but the thing is that only five or six of us were on the team last year,” McConomy said. “Last year, we were the ones who were learning and getting lectured, and now we’re the ones who have to do the whole teaching process.”
The field will be a lot more challenging for MDI this season. At the top of the list of teams hoping to knock off the Trojans will be Hermon, which clinched the No. 1 seed last year with a 16-2 record in the regular season. The Hawks return their entire 2016-17 starting lineup and will be the heavy favorites to win the regional title.
Elsewhere, Oceanside and Orono, the latter of which MDI beat in the regional title game last season, will be competitive once again. Winslow also will be a factor, although the Black Raiders will be led by a new coach this time around.
Fortunately for the Trojans, their newcomers will provide a boost against that stiff Class B North competition. MDI’s junior varsity team has gone 40-0 since the start of the 2015-16 season, and players such as Owen Mild, Alden Fournier and Dane Vanzura, now seniors, have made the jump to varsity.
“We’ve been fortunate to have such great development at that level,” Norwood said. “To be able to rely on those players who come up to help us right away is a great thing to have.”
MDI’s first game will be on the road against Old Town on Saturday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. That marks the start of a daunting season for the Trojans, who play eight of their first 11 games away from home.
“We can’t just bank off what we did last year,” Phelps said. “It’s a new season, and we have to go out and prove ourselves once again.”