AUGUSTA — With a rivalry that dates back to the 1800s, it can be hard to find any sort of new cog in the history between the Cony and Gardiner athletic programs.

But one such rivalry exists, and it’s off and running in a short amount of time. And Tuesday’s volleyball match between the Rams and Tigers could stay in the history books for awhile.

With their backs against the wall — down 2-0 entering the third game — the Rams fought back to take a 3-2 victory over the Tigers. It’s just the second match between the ancient rivals, as Gardiner’s first varsity season was in 2016.

“This is the first time we’ve had a knock-down, drag-out five-setter,” Cony head coach Dennis Dacus said. “Kudos to (Gardiner’s) program getting a lot better and pushing us to five games when we’re 4-2 and won every close game.”

Despite four consecutive aces from senior Sarah Caron, Gardiner took advantage of Cony errors, taking the first game 25-23. Thanks to serves from Shelby Berlew and strong play near the net by Ceri Gruber and Brooke Somes, the Tigers held the momentum and won the second game 25-19, leaving the Rams in a 2-0 hole.

“That’s definitely a tough spot to come out of,” Caron said. “It’s difficult to come out of a 2-0 scenario….That’s the game of volleyball. You’ve got to keep your head in the game, you’ve got to keep fighting.”

The Rams (5-2) were down, but not out. The second game seemed to wake Cony up, and the combination of Caron, Lauren Coniff and Hannah Kibbin began to take over the game. An ace by Caron sealed the third game 25-12 in favor of Cony. The trio was just as strong in the fourth set, with Caron doing most of her damage in serves, while Coniff and Kibbin — who provided several needed blocks — provided the most impact both with serves and their work down near the net.

“After Game 2, I said, ‘Ladies, I think we know we can win three in a row, because we’ve won three games in a row against teams this good before,'” Dacus said. “We beat Brunswick 3-0. Brunswick beat Gardiner. I said, ‘Look, we can win three in a row, lets go do it,’ and we did.”

Though they lost their lead, the Tigers (2-7) would not go away quietly. Both teams fought back-and-forth in the fifth and final game — at one point it was tied 8-8 — but Gardiner errors late in the game sealed the contest. Cony completed the comeback by winning the fifth set 15-11.

“Kudos to their program,” Dacus said. “Coach (Maitland Hallett) has really done a great job with their program.”

The teams were not just battling their opponents, but also the elements, as the Cony gymnasium was hot and humid throughout the match.

“A lot of us were tired,” Caron said. “It’s extremely hot. This is the hottest we’ve ever been, this gym is steaming. We’re all low-energy, we’re dying (of exhaustion). So I think one of the key things was to keep lifting each other up.”

Caron credited Gardiner’s play, saying she’s excited for the young rivalry.

“(The rivalry) is a big deal,” Caron said. “Especially in volleyball. They’re fairly new to the sport, new to have an actual program. This was the closest game I’ve ever played against Gardiner, this is the strongest they’ve ever been. They played a really good game and left it on the court, and I really appreciate playing against them.”

For Cony — the sixth seed in Class B entering the contest — the match could provide a springboard of confidence and momentum heading toward the back end of the schedule. But it won’t be easy. The Tigers were the first of three opponents this week. Cony travels to Class C North Yarmouth Academy (3-5) on Thursday, but faces a true road test Saturday, heading to Mount Desert Island (4-2).

“Going to MDI is not going to be easy,” Dacus said. “I’ve changed the practice plan on Wednesday and Friday, and instead of taking it easy on the long week, we’re going to get a little busier on the long week. NYA is a big game, but MDI is a huge game and if we want to host a playoff game, I think we have to get a win over MDI on Saturday.”

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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