GARDINER — It was the start of a season many did not see coming. Not even the Gardiner volleyball team.

A year after the Tigers had their most historic season — including the team’s first playoff appearance — Gardiner graduated 12 seniors, and lost head coach Maitland Hallett, who moved to Florida. Traditionally after such losses, a program rebuilds, taking one or two tough seasons before getting back into playoff contention.

But that is simply not happening this season.

Instead, with its overhauled roster, the Tigers own a 6-2 record, just two victories shy of last season’s win total, which was good enough for the Tigers to qualify for the Class B tournament, before falling in the quarterfinals to York. Gardiner is currently seventh in the Class B standings.

“I don’t think any of us expected this start,” senior Kailee Canning said. “We all just work together really well on the court, which is different than in previous years. Last year, there were some disagreements. To all get along pretty well, that definitely helps us.”

“I’m surprised (of the record), but I’m super proud of them,” first-year Gardiner coach Tiffany Grover said. “They just have the drive to win. (The season) could have either gone two ways. We could have said ‘OK, we’ll take this year as a rebuilding year.’ Or ‘we’ll really focus and work hard.’ They’ve shown that they can do it.”

Numbers have certainly helped. Forty players signed up to play in the preseason (12 are currently on the varsity roster), which not only help Gardiner’s present team, but keeps hope alive for the future. Also, Grover has helped change the tone and pace of practice.

“(The participation numbers) was a big change,” Canning said. “Starting (the season), we didn’t have that much experience. Since we have a new coach, everything was different, it was like starting from square one.”

“(Practice) is a lot more fast-paced,” senior Audrey Palmer said.

Grover said cohesiveness on the court has certainly been a contributing factor for the Tigers, as well as getting stronger at certain aspects of the game.

“We have really strong servers,” Grover said. “That’s been huge for us this year, is our serving. (Seniors) Audrey Palmer and Abby Folsom will get up to the line, and they can just serve.”

Surprise contributors have also played a part. One such standout has been 6-foot-2-inch Lizzy Gruber, a freshman who has been a force at the net so far this season for the Tigers.

“She plays middle-front, and she’s just been dominant,” Grover said. “She’s still a baby, she’s learning. She’s new, she does a lot of beginner things. But I’m really impressed with her.”

Having a home-court advantage has certainly helped Gardiner as well. Five of the first eight matches of the season have been played at home — all resulting in a win — a welcome change from what the Tigers went through last season when the team traveled 907 miles total for road matches.

“It’s definitely helping, being on your home court,” Canning said. “Especially in the beginning of the season, where we’re still getting used to things, it was kind of an advantage.”

The road will not be easy for Gardiner in its final six matches of the regular season. Gardiner has a rematch against rival Cony on Saturday in Augusta. The Tigers got the best of the Rams in a 3-1 victory at home in the season opener Sept. 6. The Tigers will also have a tough match on the road against Washington Academy in the regular-season finale Oct. 19. The Raiders currently sit second in the Class B standings.

“We’re going to face some teams coming up that are going to be able to serve at us, so we have to get ready for that,” Grover said. “And just (play) regular defense. We have to play defense.”

But for now, the Tigers continue to win. And continue to surprise.

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