GARDINER — The Cape Elizabeth volleyball team didn’t have the undefeated record Thursday night, or the daunting set win-loss record that its opponent did.

The Capers did, however, have the advantage in experience. It’s one that serves them well at this time of year, and Thursday’s Class B semifinal was no exception.

Led by Annaliese Rudberg’s prowess at the net, third-seeded Cape Elizabeth took down undefeated and second-seeded Gardiner 3-0 to reach its fourth straight Class B state championship game. The Capers (13-4) beat Falmouth in 2017, lost to Yarmouth in 2018 and ’19, and will face the Clippers again Monday at 6 p.m. after winning by set scores of 25-12, 25-18 and 25-21.

“It was a really great team effort. We all came out here and played like we wanted to win and like we knew how we could win,” said Rudberg, a senior captain. “We were just really excited to come out and play a new team and show what we’ve got.”

The whole night was a 180-degree turn from the regular season for Gardiner (16-1), which had dropped only two of 50 sets played coming into the match — but which had never played in a state semifinal before.

“I don’t think any of us have any words to say, but we are so proud to be a part of this team,” Gardiner junior Lizzy Gruber said. “We made Gardiner volleyball history. We’d never even made it past prelims before, and here we are, making it to semifinals in our gym. That is incredible.”


It became clear early on, however, that Gardiner’s spirited run was in trouble against the battle-tested Capers. Cape Elizabeth had an answer for seemingly every Tiger attack, and neutralized the Gruber-led net presence that had made Gardiner so formidable for 16 matches.

“We were excited, we heard about a 6-4 girl and it was a little bit of a shocking thing because we’re a small team,” Rudberg said. “But we held our own and we played like a team. … Boeck (Coach Sarah Boeckel) always says to us that the disciplined team wins.”

When the Capers went on the attack, it was the hard-hitting Rudberg (16 kills) doing much of the damage.

“That’s also that we’re passing well and Maeve (McQueeney’s) getting other hitters in, so (Rudberg) had a lot of 1-on-1 lobbing,” Boeckel said. “But Rud is such a stud. She’s one of the big hearts of the team, and if you give her a good ball to hit, she’s going to put it down.”

With Cayden Royall serving, Cape won 10 straight points to take a 15-4 lead in the first set and was hardly challenged en route to the victory. Things got tougher in the second and third sets as Gruber (10 kills) became more involved, and the Tigers even worked their way to 13-13 ties in both.

No strangers to big-game pressure, however, the Capers prevailed down the stretch both times. In the third set, Gardiner continued to battle to a 17-17 score, but Cape got five of the next six points to cripple the Tigers’ hopes of extending the match.


“I don’t like that we got on our heels in the second game. … But I’m really proud of the girls, they fought through it,” said Boeckel, who also got five kills and two aces from Madalynn Vaine. “I think it’s confidence. We talked about it a lot this season, that good teams are going to get their points. We’ve just got to be prepared to get that ball back. Don’t give them runs.”

Gardiner’s Emily Grady can’t reach the ball during a Class B semifinal volleyball match against Cape Elizabeth on Thursday in Gardiner. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Gardiner coach Tiffany Grover acknowledged the challenge her team faced of handling a type of adversity it hadn’t seen all season.

“It was hard to come in tonight. It felt like we were climbing a mountain the whole time,” said Grover, who got three kills from Emily Folsom and an ace from Yana Montell. “We’d start to get it, and then we’d get into one of our weaker rotations and then we’d have to work our way back. By the time we would get to a strong rotation again, we were digging ourselves back out of a hole.”

Grover said she’s hoping to further test her team, which returns five of seven starters, next season.

“I’m hoping next year our schedule is a little bit tougher, to prepare us even more for the tournament,” she said. “We’ll get stronger next year, hopefully play some tougher teams, and we’ll just keep working.”

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