BAR HARBOR — The Mount Desert Island High School varsity girls’ soccer team lost 1-0 to the Gardiner Tigers in a prelim match on Oct. 23.
Even though the loss ended the Trojan’s soccer season – Coach May Dow’s first as the head varsity coach – the team walked away unbowed.
When the Trojan girls, clad in white and green, step onto a field, they huddle together, take a deep breath and shout “family!”
“This team became a family, and that is what every sports team strives for,” said senior Julianna Cleaves.
With each practice, Dow focused as much on communication, respecting fellow athletes and teamwork as she did on improving the game.
This year, Cleaves was moved into a position she hadn’t played in the past. She started as an outside back. But when the team’s starting goalkeeper was unavailable almost midway through the season, Cleaves stepped up. Positioned as a defender, she “wasn’t afraid to ask positional questions. She wanted to get better not only for herself but [also] for the team,” said Dow.
Cleaves said that as one of the handful of seniors on the team, she was constantly encouraged to believe in herself and her abilities. “It helped build who I am and the kind of player I am.”
The Trojan squad faced their share of losses this season, but remained resilient. Battling each game, they overcame the challenges and had each other’s back, implementing the coach’s message of picking each other up and pulling together. “[They] encouraged each other and didn’t blame or point fingers when things got tough,” said Dow.
Several girls were anxious of the changes a new coach would bring, but quickly grew fond of her, said senior Keely McConomy, who started the season as a goalkeeper.
When she was out of the lineup for five games, Dow said, she took Cleaves aside and “really tried to help her and teach some goalkeeping skills.”
Even though an injury stopped her from being on the field, she still managed to make an impact on the game.
McConomy ended her senior season with five shutouts in nine out of 14 games. She allowed only eight of the 14 goals given up this season. “This was one of my favorite soccer seasons in my high school career,” she said. “It is very upsetting knowing that I can’t play for her [Dow] again, but [I] enjoyed the season so much that having that experience is enough.”
Apart from bringing in the tradition of treating the team as a family, Dow greatly encouraged one that the team had in their past season.
Before each match, the Trojan girls read out a motivating quote and tore off a piece to put in their shin guards to have with them during the game. “Coach Dow loved this idea,” said McConomy. “She was all for anything that would make us more mentally prepared for the game.”
For the team’s co-captain, Paige Mason, this tradition helped her be more focused. It became her version of a pep talk. “Of course we wanted to win,” she said, but the quotes addressing team work, commitment, communication and support helped motivate them to achieve something greater. “For me, carrying that piece made me feel like I needed to achieve that goal. It made it feel real.”
The other co-captain, and the third senior among the Trojan squad, Opal Curless, was “the engine” of the team, according to Dow. She finished her high school soccer career with 85 goals, 28 of which she scored this season. “Opal is a very strong player who doesn’t get pushed off the ball very easily,” she said. Even though she is always closely marked by one, sometimes two players, she’s “a quick player who can break loose from being closely marked.”
Dow remembers watching her play as a freshman, when she was an assistant coach at Ellsworth High School, and said even then she knew that Curless was “going to be a tremendous player.”
For Curless, being a part of the team has taught her the importance of hard work, dedication and giving her all on and off the field even in unfavorable conditions. “Playing a competitive sport has also taught me a lot about respect,” she said. “Always staying respectful in tough or frustrating situations, whether on the field or in life, has been a valuable lesson for me to learn.”
Other team members included Adrianna Novella, Rachel Jacobs, Mariah Hamor, Darcy Kanu, India Janes, Ellie Bridgers, Julia Hendricks, Maddie Thornton, Abbe Miller, Lily Turner, Natalie Klaver, Ally Bender and Maya Watras.
Dow believes that there is always room for improvement and that the team should learn from both the positive and negative things that happen in a game. “We have to work hard and sometimes be creative,” she said. “Don’t always settle to get the perfect shot. It’s not always going to happen, and if it doesn’t, keep working and don’t give up.”
She is pleased with the performance of the team and said they played tough throughout the season.
“This team became a soccer family,” she added. “I was very pleased to see the girls come together and play as a team, it’s part of what makes coaching fun and rewarding. They carried and held each other. They won and lost with grace and class.”