GARDINER — Even after 16 years on the job, Gardiner girls basketball coach Mike Gray doesn’t always find it easy to assess his team’s early-season performance.

“We’ve kind of stop being surprised by the scores we’re seeing (around the league),” Gray said Friday night prior to his undefeated Tigers’ 64-48 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference win over Nokomis. “I think we’re playing well, but I don’t really know. Maybe we’ve played good teams, maybe we haven’t. I really can’t tell.”

One thing Gray has taken measure of is his team’s compete level. More a buzzword in hockey circles than basketball ones, it’s a complex euphemism for what’s more commonly coined “effort.” And Gray has seen it, both in games and in practices over the first two weeks of the season.

In what is shaping up as a wide-open Class A North, that’s about all Gray can ask for. Between them, Gardiner and Nokomis boast a .800 winning percentage with eight wins in 10 games.

“I’m the coach, so it’s my job to be unhappy,” Gray said. “It’s hard to complain about being (undefeated), but I still think we haven’t put together a full game. If we did, it was probably a fluke. But the kids are buying into their roles, and we’re getting to where we want to be. What I like is how they all have that team-first mentality.”

Nokomis coach Michelle Paradis, blessed with both the positives and the negatives about having so much youth in her lineup each night, has looked at her team through a wider lens than she was afforded with previous editions of the Warriors.

A 10-player roster boasts 50 percent freshmen, four juniors and only one senior for Nokomis this season. Wins over Lawrence and Skowhegan certainly have raised expectations, but Paradis is more concerned with how an undersized skill group learns the ropes against the heavier regional competition another month from now.

Nokomis struggled against the size and pace Gardiner presented Friday.

Because they’re so young, sometimes the Warriors on the floor simply don’t know any better. Mistakes aren’t amplified because older players don’t have agendas, there are no cliques within the squad, and — like Ebby Calvin Laloosh from “Bull Durham” fame — they play the game with a sort of blissful ignorance.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s just part of the learning process. Sometimes, you don’t know what you simply don’t know.


“It’s great that they have the mentality where they just move on from things and try to learn from it,” Paradis said. “I’ve had older kids who would harp and harp and harp on things that happened two games ago, because they didn’t know how to let things go.

“For them to adapt to that, I think it’s great. I’ve never had a team like that. That’s super different for me.”

We’ve barely finished two full weeks of the regular season, the team has been on the floor together since mid-November, and yet the Warriors might be good. Or great. Or somewhere in between.

Even the coach can’t really say.

“Where we’re so young, I have a hard time judging where we’re at, to be honest,” Paradis said. “I don’t know what consistency I’m going to get. Our starting lineup changes depending on who we’re playing. We’ve had games where we’ve gone guard-heavy, and we’ve had games against bigger teams where our post players have seen more minutes.”

Not that the process means everything, not with Heal points on the line every night and an eight-team field shaping up for February.

Beyond that, the chance to play teams a second time in the New Year also provide a gauge on how a team is coming together well ahead of tournament time.

“Some wins mean more than others,” Gray said. “Only eight teams make it (the tournament) — you have to get the wins anytime you can, but a lot of it is going to turn into jockeying for position. Some years it’s about avoiding the (eighth seed) because the No. 1 is unbelievable, and other years it’s just ‘get in.’

“I think this is going to be one of those seasons.”

It’s certainly shaping up that way. And it’s not even Christmas yet.

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