Gardiner’s Lizzy Gruber celebrates a point during a Class B semifinal volleyball match against Cape Elizabeth earlier last year in Gardiner. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo

As a new high school volleyball season gets underway, teams across central Maine seek continued growth.

Gardiner took a giant step forward last year, becoming a force in Class B after going 14-0 in the regular season. The Tigers would finish 16-1, falling to Cape Elizabeth in the Class B semifinals.

Gardiner head coach Tiffany Grover said the Tigers look to go even further this fall.

“We were one step away from a state championship last year, our goal this year is to make it one more game,” Grover said.

The Tigers graduated outside hitter Emily Folsom, who was a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference first team selection, as well as center Daisy McNeil, one of the team’s top leaders. But most of last year’s group returns, including middle blocker and KVAC Player of the Year Lizzy Gruber.

“Lizzy’s a key to our offense,” Grover said of the 6-foot-4 senior, who is also one of the top girls basketball players in the state. “She’s just a powerhouse in the front row. She’s pretty intimidating to a lot of teams.”


Cony High School volleyball players compete during an Aug. 17 practice in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Gruber will be joined by senior captain Emily Grady and junior Yana Montell, both KVAC second team selections last season. The Tigers added some depth, too.

“I took 12 on (the varsity roster), which is more than I normally take, because I had a lot of girls from (junior varsity) really step up to prove that they can play if I need them for varsity,” Grover said. “For the first time, I’m having trouble filling spots not because of the lack (of players), but because people are just surprising me. It’s actually really good, because I have a bunch this year that can play and I can sub if I need to, which is something that Gardiner hasn’t really experienced before.”

Grover added that communication will be key, especially early in the season.

“I just want to see them start gelling,” she said. “Last year, very early on, we started gelling as a team, and that helped us be very successful. This year, in our preseason game, we’ve had some communication issues that we’ve really been working on in practice. The skill is all there, they just need to communicate and (do the job). I’d really like to see them step up in that area and communicate. Once they start doing that, I think they’ll be pretty unstoppable.”

Cony finished last season 6-9, falling to Ellsworth in the first round of the Class B playoffs. The Rams managed to gain some momentum down the stretch, going 3-3 in their last six games.

Rams head coach Lindsey Morin has eight returning starters on a senior-heavy roster, and is looking to continue the momentum heading into the season.


“We’re excited and we like the challenge,” Morin said. “We just really want to see what’s working for us (during the preseason) against some competitors and see what they’re offering. We know (Class B) is going to be tough, so we just have to stay focused, play our game.”

The Rams graduated top player Zainab Al Braihi, who had 104 digs and had 48 aces last season. The Rams do return plenty of talent, including senior middle blocker Kylie Quinn and junior libero Ashley Tobias, both of whom were KVAC second team selections last season.

“(Tobias) is one of our liberos, and just has a tremendous ability to read the court and watch what’s going on,” Morin said.

The group is rounded out by senior outside hitter Avery Theriault.

Cony High School volleyball players flex during an Aug. 17 practice in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“She’s worked on her serve and her hitting,” Morin said of Theriault. “Placing the ball where she wants it to go.”

Messalonskee, which made its varsity debut in 2019, continues to see growth. The Eagles went a respectable 7-8 last season, including a win over Cony.


Head coach Jen Croft said she had 30 players try out. The Eagles, who have eight seniors, return their entire roster.

“We’re looking forward (to the senior leadership),” Croft said. “Just to have some people there that know what they’re doing and we’re looking forward to hopefully a good season.”

Candace Pelotte returns as the top player for Messalonskee. Pelotte, a senior, was a first team all-conference selection last season. She’ll be joined by junior setter Elise McDonald.

“Overall, our play on the court has been more consistent, and we’ve been seeing the girls connect a lot better just because they’ve been playing a lot longer now,” Croft said. “Last year, we actually had a lot of really close games where we lost in the fifth set, 15-13 or something like that. We’re hoping to turn those losses into wins this year which will make our standing a lot better.”

Nokomis, another young central Maine program, is also on an upward trend. The Warriors picked up victories over Cony and Mt. Desert Island last season.

“I have a pretty high level team of girls who have been here since the beginning,” said Nokomis head coach Kate Myers-Jewett. “I have a pretty strong senior group and 17 (total) on the roster… I’m very excited to see how we match up against all of our teams that we play up here. I think my girls and my seniors are ready (for the next step) and get some more wins on our record this year.”

The Warriors, who have Courtney Wheaton and Rachel Creswell among their standout returners, have been working on their setting and serving throughout the preseason.

“If you don’t get your serves in, (you miss) easy points, as I call it,” Myers-Jewett said.

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