The Gardiner girls lacrosse team was 1-11 in the regular season last year, but to the Tigers, it must have felt like a hundred losses. There were two to Cony, by a combined 23 goals. Two more to Brunswick, by a total of 19 goals. Two more to Mt. Ararat, by 16 goals.

The schedule was going to give Gardiner’s Class B-sized program a break this year. After facing nine Class A teams last season, the Tigers had to take on only four this year, spending most of their time facing other Class B schools.

Still, the turnaround was quick, complete, and unexpected.

In coach Andy Haskell’s second season, Gardiner finished 10-4, earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern B tournament and losing in triple overtime in the semifinals. For that performance, Haskell is the choice as the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel Girls Lacrosse Coach of the Year. Also considered was Messalonskee’s Ashley Pullen, who received the honor last year.

“I knew we had a good, solid nucleus of players coming back,” Haskell said. “I thought we’d be fairly competitive this year. The kids, despite the 1-11 record, did a good job learning the system.”

Haskell said he was further encouraged by what he saw early in preseason.

“The first couple days of tryouts, when we were evaluating the players,” Haskell said, “my assistant coach, Chad Kirk and I, we just started talking, and we were like, ‘Everybody’s improved immensely over last season.’ “

Ally Day and Brooke Davis each scored more than 50 goals for the Tigers this season, but Day said it was never a case of one or even two people being expected to do everything by themselves.

“A lot of teams have that one individual player who does everything a team needs done,” Day said. “But he definitely made us work as a team.”

Haskell has an extensive background in fitness, and Friday practices were full of running. Day said Haskell found a way to make even that fun.

“Some coaches are like, ‘Do another lap,’ ” Day said. “He was one of those, ‘If you do another lap, I’ll go with you.’ He’s an amazing coach. I love him.”

Gardiner started four freshmen at times, and occasionally had six freshmen on the field at once. Unsung players like Julie Krouse and Emma Hickey blended with talented newcomers like Kelsey Moody, Nickyia Lovely, and Bryce Smith.

Haskell said the Tigers gained confidence in a close loss to Lewiston (after losing 17-8 to the Blue Devils last year), but the game that really signaled Gardiner’s turnaround was against Brunswick, another Class A opponent. Brunswick defeated the Tigers, 17-5 and 13-6 last spring, and that was the backdrop when Gardiner traveled south in early May.

“They came out and took it to us,” Haskell said. “It was 5-0. We called timeout, and said, ‘Relax. We’ll take it one goal at a time.’

“We made a run. You could see the girls get more confidence as they scored goals.”

Gardiner ended up winning, 11-10, when Day scored on a free position shot with less than 10 seconds to play. Gardiner improved to 6-0 with that win.

Gardiner’s run ended with a triple-overtime loss to Morse in the Eastern B semifinals. That was also Haskell’s last game as Gardiner coach. He and his wife, Jill, are expecting a baby later this month, and the realization of the time constraints hit him in midseason after back-to-back road games.

“I just looked at my wife, and I said, ‘There’s no way we’ll be able to pull this off next spring,’ ” Haskell remembered. “It was a good run, but family comes first.”

Haskell helped build an expectation for success in his two seasons at Gardiner, and he feels the pieces are there for the Tigers to remain competitive.

“Whoever takes over the program has a very solid foundation,” he said. “The kids have learned to play at a high level.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

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