Roster changes aside, defending champion MDI still poised to contend

The graduation of nine seniors usually portends a rebuilding task for any state championship high school basketball team.

At Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor, a better description of the Trojans’ performance this season after winning the Class B state crown last March might be rebooting.

Sure, the graduation losses were heavy and the returning experience limited primarily to senior point guard Andrew Phelps, but the system in place and the depth of the program — the MDI JV team is coming off back-to-back undefeated years — has streamlined the developmental process to the point that coach Justin Norwood’s club is 7-1 and ranked second in Class B North heading into Wednesday night’s rivalry game at Ellsworth.

“I think it has to come down to teamwork and having trust in our teammates,” said Phelps after MDI’s 45-43 win over Oceanside of Rockland on Saturday night.

“I’d say coach Norwood does a really good job of having kids buy into the program of team first, players second. I’ve bought in and I think everyone on this team has bought in, and definitely last year it was very unselfish ball.”

The win over Oceanside was fairly typical of the program’s success under Norwood, himself a former MDI basketball player.

The Trojans now have held seven of their first eight opponents this winter to fewer than 50 points, the only exception a 53-49 loss at Presque Isle on Dec. 28. That was the team’s last game before facing an Oceanside team that won the 2016 Class A North championship and returned to the A North final last winter.

“I’m really pretty pleased with how things are going so far,” said Norwood, MDI’s 11th-year head coach. “It’s a lot different than last year, but we’re starting to figure some things out.

“It’s different kids and trying to figure out different roles and working on improving every day. It’s been fun.”

While most of the players on this year’s squad arrived for tryouts in November with little or no varsity experience, one of the team’s emerging strengths has been its depth.

Nine different players saw significant minutes against Oceanside, with seven scoring.

“Andrew was the primary player with varsity minutes from a year ago,” said senior guard Finn McConomy, whose 3-pointer with 8.6 seconds left produced the game-winning points in Saturday’s victory.

“But I think everybody was ready for this stage. I’m not really surprised by the depth because everybody comes to practice and works hard every day to get better.”

The schedule doesn’t get easier for MDI, including two games remaining with Ellsworth and two more (Jan. 20 and Jan. 30) against undefeated Class B North frontrunner Hermon.

But as the Trojans continue to grow into their new roles, confidence also is growing.

“Just knowing the players we have and that coach Norwood has our back and is going to draw up good plays, with him as our coach and everybody on the team buying in to being a team and being unselfish, I think no matter who we play we’re going to go in and put up a fight,” said McConomy.

Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.