BAR HARBOR — Competing at the height of a pandemic last year presented local sports teams with all sorts of challenges. For the Mount Desert Island swim team, there was one challenge in particular that stood out.
In order to adjust for building capacities and reduce transmission risks, swim meets were held virtually in the 2020-21 season. Rather than competing side by side in the same pool areas, teams instead swam on their own before exchanging times to determine individual winners and point tallies.
That created challenges for MDI and other teams, which have grown accustomed to the presences of other swimmers joining side by side in pool lanes over the years. Although the Trojans were technically competing against the other swimmers, they felt, as head coach David Blaney pointed out, as if they were “racing against themselves.”
“I would say that was one of the negatives, doing that every meet,” Blaney said. “We would have our races, and the kids would swim well and make the most of it, but it’s different when there’s not another team there with you.”
In-person meets have returned to the Maine high school swim season as the 2021-22 season gets set to begin. Things won’t be quite as they were the last time normal swim meets were held at the MDI YMCA, but with pool decks locally and elsewhere in the state welcoming visiting teams, the competitions this year will feel a little bit more whole.
Last year, MDI had to get creative in how it approached meets and practice sessions given the restrictions placed on gatherings and additional protocols for winter sports. With a 50-person limit on indoor gatherings in place, finding space for a large team was a difficult task.
“You really had to be mindful of all the different protocols,” Blaney said. “Not everyone could just get in and swim like they did in the past; there was some uniqueness to practice and some forethought to what we had to do. We’re still dealing with some of that.”
After the easing of restrictions last spring, it was the hope that parents and other spectators would be able to return to the MDI YMCA pool deck this winter. Unfortunately, that will not be the case as spectators will again not be allowed at MDI home meets this season.
With other pool facilities not restricting fan attendance, MDI parents and fans will still be allowed at most of the team’s away meets. Blaney said the team will also be offering attendance options for families with preference given to senior parents.
“Parents know [what the protocol at MDI Y] is going to be, and they understand,” Blaney said. “I can’t speak to whether or not they’re willing to accept it, but that’s the rule. … We will have the same live stream we had last year, so our meets will be broadcast for people to watch.”
As for the team itself, MDI has another large team this year with just over 40 kids set to swim for the Trojans this winter. Both MDI teams will be defending state championships from two years ago as well as Penobscot Valley Conference titles from last year.
This year’s teams, though, are much younger than their MDI counterparts from past seasons. The Trojans had large contributions from their senior class a year ago, and that means some fresh blood will be looking to make the step up in 2021-22.
“We had a big senior class last year, and it’s tough to replace that, but we will,” said Blaney, who is now in his third season as head coach. “Our team is just as big as it’s been in the past, and that’s always a positive. I’m excited to see what some of our new faces can do this year.”
MDI’s first meet will be against Hampden Academy at 6 p.m. tomorrow, Dec. 10, at Husson University. That meet will mark the Trojans’ first in another facility since competing in the state championships at Bowdoin College on Feb. 17 and Feb. 18, 2020.
“It’ll be great to have some head-to-head races and see swimmers in a different color than MDI green and gold,” Blaney said. “If you look back at last year, we had so many races where, if it was us and the other team in the same pool, you can only imagine how amazing it would have been. It’ll be a lot of fun.”