To be fair, K.C. Johnson isn’t the easiest coach to play for. And to his credit. he completely accepts that as fact.

But Johnson has a way of pushing his players to be better every single time they step on the field. This year, Gardiner Area High School posted a 12-0 regular season and advanced to the Class B North regional finals for the first time since 2013. Named the 2017 U.S. Lacrosse state coach of the year in June, Johnson has been selected as the Kennebec Journal Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year. Jason Wade of Erskine and Joe Hinckley of Oak Hill were also considered.

“He knows how good we can be,” said Gardiner junior midfielder Sloan Berthiaume, the Kennebec Journal Player of the Year. “He knows we’re better than we perform sometimes. He doesn’t let us relax or just accept ‘good enough.’ He keeps on pushing us.”

After the Tigers’ ninth straight win to open the season in mid-May against rival Maranacook/Winthrop — a lopsided 16-3 win over the Hawks — Johnson wasn’t ready to rest on any laurels or past accomplishments. He spoke immediately about his team’s need to raise its collective game in order to keep pace with the teams in the southern region that loomed on the postseason calendar.

He did the same even after a regional quarterfinal win over Winslow.

“I’ve always wanted to get the program to a certain level,” said Johnson, who has been Gardiner’s head coach for 19 seasons and was previously named KJ Coach of the Year in 1999 and again in 2013. “I’m just the GPS. These kids are the vehicle. I look back at our program and it’s amazing to see the strides they’ve taken.”

Part of getting them to that next level is never letting them accept less than their individual or collective bests. Even the players realize that.

“We’ve had some games where we’d top a team by seven goals, but we’d still get chewed out at the end,” Berthiaume said with a laugh. “That’s reasonable to me, because even though we put some goals in we still weren’t as good as we needed to be.”

Johnson is happy to see his players have bought into the program and to his overall philosophy. Every time they step on the field, be it for training or a game, Johnson expects players to work hard to get better than they were at the start of the day.

If they get better as individuals, it becomes about the success of the team and not individual statistics or accolades.

“I’m proud of them for buying it,” Johnson said. “Though bought in right from the first game of the preseason. They bought into the team concept, which is what we were all preaching as a program. I’m super proud.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC