GARDINER — While Sharon Gallant was Gardiner’s field hockey assistant for the last 15 years before taking over as head coach, she was still uneasy before Thursday afternoon’s season opener with Nokomis.

But while everything pointed to a nail-biter between two of the top teams in Eastern B, Gardiner was primed to beat the defending state champions. The Tigers controlled the first half and went on to a 3-0 victory.

“I feel a lot better now that it’s over,” Gallant said. “I did have those first-game butterflies. The kids have been very excited. They’ve been preparing like crazy. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve beat Nokomis, so they were definitely ready to come for this game.”

Gardiner had advantages of 10-1 in shots and 14-4 in penalty corners. When the numbers are in that range, it’s usually because of solid midfield play, and that was the case with Gardiner’s trio of Abby Dyer, Sarah Morgan and Maddy Beaulieu.

“They switch well together,” Gallant said. “They back each other up well. They’re really starting to work together as a unit.”

“Our coach told us to go to the ball and mark our men, and we’ll do fine,” Dyer said. “We still have speed, and we’re a pretty strong team this year.”

Gardiner led 1-0 at the break on a goal by Morgan midway through the first half. The Tigers had 11 corners and eight shots in the first half, while Nokomis had zero of each.

“I thought we just didn’t play a whole game,” Nokomis coach Kristy Staples said. “There were spurts where we did a really good job, we played really hard, we did the right things — but we didn’t do that for 60 minutes.”

But in fairness to the Warriors, this isn’t the same team that went undefeated last fall and won the Gold Ball in November. Nokomis is breaking in several new starters, and one of the main assets of last year’s team was a group of seniors who knew each other’s games well because they played together for years.

“We only have four returning starters, so that’s a big hole to fill,” Staples said. “And the kids that we lost from last year were amazing. It’s kind of a different philosophy, because of the types of kids we have this year.”

Gardiner made it 2-0 less than five minutes into the second half when Emily Malinowski sent a pass over to Nickyia Lovely, who whacked it in for the goal. Lilly Chepke added the third goal with 11:04 to go.

“We’ve really been working on the forwards coming back to make sure that they’re also helping (with) the movement of the ball up the field,” Gallant said. “I thought they did a remarkable job on that aspect today as well.”

The best chance for Nokomis came on a corner with under nine minutes left. Olivia Brown delivered a hard pass into the circle, but Beaulieu was playing deep near the goal line and deflected it away.

Gardiner has its Drive Out Cancer game against Cony on Saturday, and has another tough test on Tuesday at Mt. View. The Tigers are also well aware that Thursday’s game was in early September, not late October or early November.

“We have a long way to go,” Gallant said. “It’s the first game. First games give you a little bit of information, but not really until about halfway through the season do you figure out what you’ve really got.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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