AUGUSTA — The atmosphere wasn’t quite high-stakes sporting event at the Cony High School gym in the first week of September.

It was something closer to a dress rehearsal or a restaurant soft opening.

The Cony girls volleyball team was playing amiable host to first-year program Gardiner in a scrimmage before both teams got underway for real.

Fans filed in as the players tentatively rotated where they were supposed to be. The official instructed the line judges on hand signals and even called for a do-over on a close ball. The coaches rotated the varsity and junior varsity in and out of the lineup to match up with each other.

One thing was clear: Volleyball in Central Maine isn’t where it wants to be yet. But they’re working on getting there.

“Half of my girls, if they weren’t playing volleyball, they wouldn’t be playing any sports,” Cony coach Dennis Dacus said. “It’s such an inexpensive sport compared to just about anything. You need a couple holes in the floor, a couple poles and a net.”

Volleyball has traditionally been a province of southern Maine. The list of state champions is littered with teams like Yarmouth, Greely and Biddeford.

But schools in Central Maine are getting into the game, with Cony welcoming new programs Gardiner and Brunswick this season.

Gardiner coach Maitland Hallett echoed the sentiments of his Cony counterpart. He said he has 29 girls out for the first official season of volleyball in Gardiner — enough to make up three teams — most of whom would not be out for a fall sport if the volleyball team had not been created.

Hallett also liked what he saw from the first scrimmage.

“The varisty went 1-2 but the JV was 2-0, so that’s a good sign,” Hallett said. “We’re still shaking things out and so we have to force some players into spots and see where they fit.”

And both teams got a win during the first week of the season.

Cony dropped its opener to Greely 3-0, but rebounded with a five-set win over Kennebunk, 3-2.

Gardiner earned a win in its first official match, knocking off fellow first-year squad Brunswick 3-2. They then lost a pair of 3-0 matches to Yarmouth and Deering, respectively.

While Gardiner is playing its first season, Cony is looking to improve on a 3-11 mark from a season ago.

The Rams will rely on a core of players who return with experience. Dacus said several of his players have been playing more volleyball outside the high school season.

“We have a few of them who have done a lot of offseason work, and it’s great to see kids dedicate themselves to volleyball like that,” Dacus said.

Gardiner plays Tuesday night at Kennebunk, while Cony next sees action Monday night at Cheverus. Cony and Gardiner meet up in the regular season on Oct. 4.

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