BAR HARBOR — The Mount Desert Island volleyball team has been longing to open a match like this.
Even throughout a season that’s seen MDI improve leaps and bounds from where it was a year ago, there’s still been one thing in particular that’s been a worry for the Trojans: slow starts. Closing out the first half of the regular season with a pivotal Class B clash, MDI wanted to reverse that trend — and did.
MDI rode a fast start Thursday to a 3-0 victory over Ellsworth in Bar Harbor. The Trojans, who had early-match struggles in prior games against Calais, Cape Elizabeth and Westbrook, stormed to a 25-8 win in the first set before winning the second 25-16 and holding off the Eagles 25-23 to claim the third.
“The key for us was that good start to this one because, earlier in the year, we didn’t do that in some of our matches,” MDI head coach Corey Papadopoli said. “It was important for us to seize momentum in this one early.”
After MDI and Ellsworth each won two of the first four points to begin the first set, the Trojans (4-3) scored eight straight points to take a 10-2 lead. MDI continued to control the set the rest of the way to claim a 17-point victory.
MDI outpaced Ellsworth in the second set to pull within one game of victory before the Eagles (1-4) dug in their heels to take a 12-8 lead in the third set. Yet the Trojans fought back to tie the game at 12 and ultimately held off the visitors’ late rally just enough to earn a two-point win.
“We started really well, but we knew Ellsworth was going to fight back and make us work for it,” MDI senior Kate Hoff said. “We just had to keep up our energy, and it was all about perseverance for us.”
Ruby Brown, Kylie Higgins and Molly Ritter had five aces each to lead a balanced effort for MDI with Brown adding three kills and one dig, Higgins adding one kill and three digs and Ritter recording six digs. Ella Hubbard (10 assists and four aces) and Jocelyn Boudreau (three digs and 12 kills) led the way for Ellsworth.
The win gave the Trojans a 4-3 record at the season’s midway point. After winning just two games in 2018, an MDI team with more experience this time around is in position to return to the playoffs after missing out last year.
“Last year, we were kind of starting over,” said Papadopoli, who began his second stint as head coach a season ago after taking a year off in 2017. “This year, we have a group of talented, committed girls back, and we’re taking that step forward.”
Ellsworth fell to 1-4 on the season with the loss. Although the Eagles, who have also had trouble with rough starts to matches this year, improved from their first-set defeat, MDI was able to ride its early momentum to hold off the visitors later in the match.
“Our biggest challenge is getting on top and taking control immediately in the first game,” Ellsworth head coach Jamie Calandro said. “We’ve come out of the gate slow and slowly, slowly reacted to shake off the mistakes and build on the offense we’ve always practiced.”
With Ellsworth High School’s Katsiaficas Gymnasium undergoing renovations, the Eagles have yet to play at home in 2019. This battle with the Trojans was one of three scheduled home matches thus far to either be moved to a different location or postponed to a later date.
“It’s been a real tough stretch with four road games in five days and without being able to play or even practice at our own gym,” Calandro said. “You have to try your best not to dwell on the things your mind can dwell on with how hard it is to travel the entire month of September.”
Ellsworth’s next game will be on the road against Brewer at 6 p.m. next Thursday, Oct. 3. The Eagles will play their first home match against Washington Academy at 11:30 a.m. next Saturday, Oct. 5.
MDI will be back in action when it hosts Greely (1-4) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28. The Trojans will play on the road against Nokomis at 5:30 p.m. next Friday, Oct. 4, and will host Gardiner at 12:30 p.m. the following day.
“We’re hyped and motivated right now,” Hoff said. “We have a great coach and a great group of girls, and a win like this is really going to get us going.”