By Tony Blasi, Sports Editor
JAY —The Spruce Mountain sports programs are experiencing a kind of “Happy Days Are Here Again” prosperity this season.
This joy comes in the midst of dwindling jobs and a population that is stagnant at best in surrounding communities.
But events outside Spruce Mountain’s world haven’t distracted the school’s athletes, whose pride and perseverance have rejuvenated struggling sports programs.
* The girls’ soccer team hasn’t seen a winning season for years and now the Phoenix are 7-4-1 and streaming toward the playoffs.
* The small contingent of the boys’ and girls’ track team have enough runners to score at meets.
* The golf team has qualified for the state Class B golf championships for the first time in coach Dianne Fenlason’s tenure.
* The football team is on another playoff run under the direction of coach David Frey. The Phoenix are now 4-2, heading to the playoffs again and recently rallied to beat Freeport and their defense gave undefeated Lisbon a really hard time in a 22-6 loss.
Ball of fire
Seniors can’t remember the last time the Spruce girls’ soccer team had a winning season or made a trip to the playoffs.
Fast forward to the 2017 season and now the Phoenix are on cruise control with a 7-4-1 record and on a verge of seeing action in the postseason.
Along comes along Bill Acritelli, who stepped down from coaching the boys’ team and stepped up to coach the girls’ squad.
Try pointing the finger at Acritelli for the Phoenix’s success and he will stop you right there. He refuses to take credit for Spruce’s about-face.
“Well, I can only direct,” Acritelli said. “The girls have to do it on the field. I can sit on the sideline and yell all I want, but if they don’t listen to me, it is not going to happen.
“This year, they have all taken a liking to playing soccer. It really, really shows on the field where they pass…communication, all that stuff comes in huge for these girls.
“It has nothing to do with me. It is all about the kids and that’s the way it will always be. I am a coach. They pay me to do this. I enjoy doing it. I love the kids. I love the camaraderie. This is a great community at Spruce Mountain. I don’t think I would coach anywhere else — whether it is soccer, skiing or tennis.”
Seniors Allison Acritelli and Hanna St. Pierre insist that their coach taught the Phoenix how to play as a family.
“We became a family out of it and we all bonded as sisters and that’s why you hear us yell, ‘Family!’ at the end of our game because win or lose, we are a team and family,” Allison, Bill’s daughter, said. “I think this one of my favorite years and I think it has definitely helped moving to the MVC because it is a lot better.”
“It is just family because last year and the year before we always used to fight with each other,” St. Pierre said. “And Bill made us run if we got attitudes.
“Bill helped us a lot. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. He gave us the motivation we needed.”
Running on success
The Spruce Mountain cross country teams’ numbers are up and so are the Phoenix’s spirits. The addition of personnel gives the Phoenix their first opportunity to score points as a team.
“This season is the first time in Spruce Mountain High Schoo history that there has been a scoring boys’ and girls’ team,” Spruce Mountain cross country coach Jessica Ellingwood. “It is really exciting to see how the team has grown in my three years here as a coach and in its fourth year as a program.
“There are five boys and seven girls on the team this year. Last year, there was a total of five! Having more individuals on the team creates much more energy at practice and the runners are able to push each other and compete against each other on the hard workouts.
“The team is very supportive of each other, but also competitive. On any given race I do not know which member of the team may finish first, second, third, or even fourth for us, on the either the boys’ or girls’ team. “The times are always close.”
The team continues to grow and the accolades are now coming the Phoenix’s way.
“We were the first place co-ed team at the Madison Bulldog Invitational (Anneka Dubord, Caitlin Chaousis, Joel Soper, and Eugene Lindsey),” Ellingwood pointed out. “The girls’ team came in first at the most recent meet at Mt. Blue State Park, hosted by Dirigo, and was led by a second-place finish by Bailey Coates, 10th-place Caitlin Chaousis and 11th-place Anneka Dubord.
“The boys came in third led by an 11th-place finish by Andrew Small, 19th by Joel Soper and 20th Eugene Lindsey. At the mid-season MVC conference meet, the girls placed fourth overall (the boys’ team did not have enough participants at that race to score). We look forward to seeing how both teams will do at the MVC Conference Race at the University of Maine at Augusta.”
After four years, Ellingwood is seeing a stronger cross country program come to fruition as new athletes become interested in long-distance running.
“I always appreciate the grit and determination that runners have and this season has been special because we have so many athletes new to running and it’s exciting to help them celebrate their firsts, such as their first finish, or their personal records, or the first time they run five miles,” Ellingwood said. “Newcomers that joined later in the season that I expect to run well for us at MVCs and regionals are Carson Gross, Hunter Whitney, Christa Bowie, Beth Bowie, Alison Dubord, and Isabelle Castonguay.”
Taking a swing at championships
The Phoenix finished the season at 9-3 and are eyeing the Class B golf championships.
“This is the first time the golf team has qualified for the state Class B golf championships under my tenure,” Fenlason said. “I am unsure of the past history. This is also the first time I have attended any state level championship as a player or coach. The feeling of accomplishment was very rewarding.
“Haley Turcotte and Hailee Perkins both qualified for the girls’ Class B State individual championships to be held on Saturday, Oct. 14. Haley Turcotte has been a consistent low medalist for us this season. Shane Pelletier recorded our only eagle of the season at Maple Lane.”
This season featured new demands for the Phoenix, but it didn’t stop them from prevailing on the links.
“The season has been special because the team was challenged to play all new teams and all new courses,” Fenlason said. “It was truly a team effort on most of the victories because all players provided certain match wins or low scores when it was needed most.
It was also nice to see three new golfers (Scott Jackson, Madeline Labonte and Hannah Coates ) join the team and find success in their first year, each winning a match.”
Of course, winning matches and making the championships has raised the level of Phoenix’s confidence and enthusiasm.
“ Haley Turcotte and Shane Pelletier have played very well for the Spruce Team and their leadership has been invaluable,” Fenlason said. “Spruce Golf continues to improve and has been very competitive this year.”