GARDINER — The streak was in danger.

The Gardiner volleyball team was in jeopardy of dropping its first set of the season, trailing 14-13 to Cony on Wednesday, when coach Tiffany Grover called a timeout and brought her players today.

The theme: Ignore the noise.

“We were like ‘Just ignore the Cony fan section and get it out of our heads,'” junior outside hitter Emily Grady said. “We needed to stay positive and get the next point. It’s point by point, that’s how you win.”

The talk worked. Gardiner gave up the next point but won the following 12, taking the set 25-15. Moments later, a 25-10 victory wrapped up the 3-0 match victory, and the streak was still alive. The Tigers are now 7-0, and more impressively, 21-0. Twenty-one sets, twenty-one wins.

“It’s actually pretty insane, honestly,” Grady said. “It’s pretty crazy. … Honestly, (I’m) pretty surprised. Gardiner volleyball hasn’t always been the strongest. We never thought that this could happen. We thought ‘Let’s just do our best, and go game to game.'”


“Going 21 straight sets in a row is not something that anyone assumes is going to happen,” junior middle hitter Lizzy Gruber said. “We put work in over the offseason and we just put so much onto the floor, that I think it shows for itself. We don’t come in expecting anything, we come in wanting things.”

Gardiner gave hints of what was to come last year, going 8-1 in spring play. This season, however, a good team has taken steps toward becoming a great one.

“I feel like it’s been all this warming up,” senior outside hitter Emily Folsom said. “We’ve all been on the same varsity team for three years, so now we’ve taken all the practice and put it all together.”

These are new heights for Gardiner, but it’s part of the effect Grover has had on the team since taking over in 2019 and pushing her players to take the sport more seriously.

“I just want this program to be successful,” she said. “(I wanted) more of a competitive drive.”

Even Grover, however, has been surprised to see how it’s all worked out so far.


After she had a good play, Gardiner teammates mime taking photos of Dasey McNeill after a point during a volleyball match against Cony on Wednesday in the in the James A. Bragoli Memorial Gym at Gardiner Area High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“That extra time we had in the spring really did help us as a team come together. … And they were good in the spring, so I figured this fall they would be pretty good,” she said. “But to go 7-0, not losing a set, it’s pretty crazy. We’re firing on all cylinders right now.”

Watch the Tigers play, and it becomes evident why they’ve been so formidable. It’s a team that works together, rarely has breakdowns when trying to return and set up, and doesn’t seem to get rattled during longer points.

“The speed of play, the rate of play, is something that we need to work on and something that they’re really good at,” said Cony coach Lindsey Morin, whose team got strong performances from outside hitter Avery Theriault and libero Zainab Albraihi. “They don’t ever seem frazzled, and people know their roles.”

Grover said communication has been the team’s biggest improvement this season.

“The biggest thing is defense,” she said. “This year, they’re moving as a team and they’re working. It’s not always the hard-hit balls that they need to get, it’s the ones that just lob over the net that they would just let hit the floor. This year, they see it before it gets there.”

And of course, it helps to have the size up front. A force on the basketball court, the 6-4 Gruber is the same in volleyball, a presence at the net who can rack up kills and spikes but who also has the knowledge of when to hammer home a point and when to touch it to an unattended part of the floor.


“I just finish the job. That’s my job, to finish it,” she said. “When you’re so determined to do something, it just clicks in your brain. You’re going to do it.”

Gruber was dominant Wednesday, totaling more than a dozen kills in the three sets against Cony.

The Gardiner volleyball team celebrates a three set sweep over Cony to win a volleyball match Wednesday in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“She is just an incredible athlete,” Grover said. “She’s come a really long way in just two short years with hitting and defense. She goes all the way around, and that’s pretty uncommon for someone with her height.”

The Tigers are deep. In the first set against Cony, Yana Montell served for eight straight points and picked up two aces during the run, part of her four for the match. Dasey McNeill had five aces, Folsom had three, and Gruber, Grady and Grace Plourde each had one, while Kylie Boardman and Juliana Montell have anchored the improved Gardiner defense.

The Tigers were able to ignore the literal noise on Wednesday. As for the figurative noise, they’ve embraced it.

“(We say) ‘Let’s forget about our other games and try to play our game,'” Grady said. “But it is pretty hard, I’m not going to lie. We’ve all talked about it, ‘Oh, could we go to states this year? What could we do?'”

That’s a lofty objective, but it’s part of a discussion Grover said the team has daily.

“Before every game, we meet in that back hallway and we go over goals. Personal goals, and then team goals,” she said. “We have been talking a lot about playoffs and what it’s going to look like. … Every practice, the goal is kind of to get to the end there. So we work really hard.”

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