GARDINER — Sacrilegious as it might be to suggest for a pair of bitter rivals, if you took the best parts of the Cony boys soccer team and combined it with the best parts of its counterpart at Gardiner, you’d be left with an excellent Starting XI which could stack up against anybody in the region.

Gardiner senior center back Tucker Boudreau simply chuckled at the suggestion of a merger, while Cony captain Isaac Gammon took it one step further.

“Oh yeah, hands down,” said Gammon, a holding midfielder.

In the 1-1, 90-minute draw Wednesday at Hoch Field, it was clear where the two programs were at. Cony’s blessed with individual skill up and down the pitch. What Gardiner may lack in on-the-ball ability it more than makes up for in cohesiveness and structure.

It’s not surprising, then, that both sides are still looking to take the next step in what’s been a start and stop fall for each.

“What I’m proud about is the growth we’ve shown from Game 1 until now,” Gardiner coach Nick Wallace said. “We’re doing the right things. We might not be executing them the right way, but we’re doing the right things more often. If we just keep doing them, the execution piece will come.”

Gardiner is 2-1-2, while Cony is 2-2-1.

The Rams hope that the losing is done for the year.

“Honestly, what’s missing is just that focus to play together, play together for our team,” Gammon said. “Gardiner was passing the ball well, and we lost that focus a little bit. … It’s so difficult, but we just don’t have as many games as we did last year. We haven’t practiced set pieces as much, and that’s where Gardiner scored. We haven’t done other stuff together to get prepared for the games.

Cony keeper Brennan Madore (00) makes a save as Gardiner’s Cam Lasalle rushes in Wednesday in Gardiner. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We’ve lost two (games), and we don’t want to lose anymore. That’s our goal going into this year — we’ve lost our two already, so we’re just going to try and perfect as much as we can.”

Cony lost more than a dozen seniors to graduation last spring, and have a number of new faces on the field this year. Ahmed Asaleem might be a senior attacker who put the Rams on the board with his strike in the 35th minute, but he’s one of several players who may have been in the program previously but wasn’t relied on to log 70-80 minutes a day.

Rams coach James Gay continues trying to get his group to build together.

“It’s been really hard to establish any sort of a pattern at all,” said Gay, who is now in the habit of setting daily goals. “The season was so rushed the way we slapped it together. It’s like we found out, ‘Yay, we’re playing!’ and then found out we were going to play a game six days later. Everything has been so rushed and kind of sporadic. Normally, you get into this cycle of Tuesdays-Fridays-training, and you can correct mistakes. It’s not been that way. It’s been really kind of awkward.”

Like every program, it’s the seniors that coaches like Gay worry about most.

Gardiner keeper Patrick Mansir (42) gives up a goal off a rebound against Cony on Wednesday in Gardiner. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“I feel as though the seniors, they’ve been robbed in a lot of ways — and all of our athletes and students, in general — and we’ve set a goal of trying to give the seniors as good of a year as we could,” Gay said. “We’re also trying to play a lot of the younger kids, too, so that they can develop and hopefully we don’t waste the year.”

Gardiner feels that same predicament, too. They pulled level Wednesday through a Braden Dorogi corner kick that curled inside the far post in the 61st minute.

Both teams lost more than a week’s worth of games when opposing schools — for Gardiner it was Maranacook, for Cony it was Skowhegan — had COVID-19 scares and were forced to pull out of competition for a stretch.

“Up until this week we had played three games, and now we have four this week,” Wallace said.

Like Gay, Wallace said he’s simply trying to keep the development on track.

“We’re so young,” Wallace said. “The future looks great … but it stinks we’re not playing for any playoffs this year. I feel like we’re going to have a winning record, and I think we’re making great strides. I just hope we keep digging into that.”

For seniors like Boudreau, he said in the moment it feels like soccer as usual.

“It feels like I’m still competing,” Boudreau said. “I’m happy with the progress we’re making. We’ve definitely gotten a lot better.”

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