Gardiner coach Mike Gray reacts during the Class A North championship this season at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Ph Buy this Photo

Mike Gray had high expectations for the 2019-20 Gardiner Area High School girls basketball team. Then the Tigers took part in a team camp at the University of Southern Maine last summer, where it won the tournament by defeating other Class AA and A contenders.

That’s when Gray’s expectations went even higher.

“That’s when we said, ‘OK, hold,'” Gray said. “That was an eye-opener for us.”

The Tigers had talent, but they still needed to put in the work, and when preseason practices began in November, Gray reminded his team of that every day. Gardiner ended up 17-4, falling to Hampden in the Class A North final. Two of Gardiner’s four losses came to the Broncos, who won their third straight regional crown.

“We had a lot of practices that were just fun. We can have fun as long as we’re doing the work,” Gardiner senior Maggie Bell said.

For his efforts in guiding Gardiner to the Class A North regional championship game, Gray is the Central Maine Girls Basketball Coach of the Year. Joe Burnham, who coached Winthrop to the Class C South championship, also was considered.

“(Gray) understands us a lot. He’s really good at explaining stuff in practice,” Gardiner senior Jaycie Stevens said. “He’s really passionate about defense.”

Like Gray, the players noticed the success they had against high-level competition last summer.

“We were beating big schools and out-of-state schools. When we started winning those summer tournaments, we said we are going to go far,” Bell said.

“I felt like all the girls had a competitive side to them, and that made it a lot more fun,” Stevens added. “In the regular season we carried that over.”

Gray cited Dave Gonyea, the men’s basketball coach at Central Maine Community College, as an influence on his coaching style. When Gray was a student-athlete at St. Dominic High School in Aubuen, the Saints played and practiced at CMCC.

“I got to know (Gonyea) as a player at St. Dom’s. He was always there to help out,” Gray said.

The challenge for Gray and his assistant coaches was blending the veteran players with a strong group of newcomers, led by freshman Lizzy Gruber, who was an immediate strong presence in the low post.

“That was going to be our big question, and why we had success. All these kids bought into their roles. Every single one of these kids bought into what makes the team better,” Gray said.

Gray held his players accountable for the team’s fortunes, and Stevens said that is a lesson she can apply throughout her life.

“He was making us more responsible as adults. We communicated with him,” Stevens said.

Added Bell: “This year especially, Gray was giving time to the players. He always said keep your head up. You make a bad play, you just move on to the next one.”

The success of this season was the groundwork for what Gray hopes is a resurgence in Gardiner girls basketball.

“In postseason interviews with the returning players, every one of them made it clear it’s a great start, but it’s a jumping off point,” Gray said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

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