GARDINER — One year after making the program’s first appearance in a state semifinal, the Tigers took another step forward Wednesday night.

No. 2 Gardiner rallied from some nervy moments in the early going and held off No. 6 Mount Desert Island, 3-1, in a Class B girls volleyball semifinal. With the victory, the Tigers (16-0) are off to the first state championship game in program history. Gardiner will meet either York or top-seeded Yarmouth in Friday night’s title game at the University of Southern Maine.

“This program is a newer one,” said Gardiner coach Tiffany Grover. “It was new for us to make playoffs (a couple years ago). Our goal at the beginning of the year, after we made it to this match last year, was to go one (round) further.

“I knew we’d be strong this year. … They worked hard and came back stronger this year.”

After thumping MDI (12-4) in the opening game by a 25-10 count, the Trojans punched back with a dominant second-game effort. The visitors had Gardiner disjointed en route to evening the match at a game apiece with a 25-19 win.

Early in the pivotal third game, while the Tigers fought back, MDI kept pace. The game was tied on five different occasions, including late at 13-all.


“We were not expecting to come in here and sweep them,” said Lizzy Gruber, one of six Tiger seniors. “Every single team has a flaw, and we found theirs and they found ours in the second set, and that’s totally fine. It’s bound to happen.

“I don’t think any team has the chemistry this team has. I’ve played on a lot of teams, and this team is something very, very special. This team is able to be together when we’re up or when we’re down. It’s special.”

Gardiner scored 12 of the final 15 points in the game, anchored by Grace Plourde’s efforts at the service line and Gruber’s missile-like kills at the net.

Gardiner’s Emily Grady (30) digs the serve from Mount Desert Island in a Class B volleyball semifinal game Wednesday in Gardiner. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“It was just about being a collective,” Montell said of the 25-16 win in the third game. “It’s all about doing the little things that don’t seem important at the time — keeping your arms out and everything like that. It’s the little things.”

“Unfortunately, you didn’t get to see our best volleyball tonight,” said MDI coach Corey Papadopoli, whose team had won nine straight without dropping a set entering Wednesday. “I don’t know if it was nerves, but that’s all I can really attribute it to. It was a big stage, a loud building.”

Gardiner raced out to a 14-5 lead early in the fourth and final game. Two early timeouts called by Papadopoli did little to thwart the Tiger momentum in a 25-16 win.

While aces, hits and kills generate the headlines, Gardiner wrestled the match away from MDI with the finer things in the game — namely defense, execution and a high situational I.Q.

“We played a little bit lazy defense (in the second game),” Grover said. “We came in after that second game and said we’ve got to pick up the defense. MDI is a good team, and not a team you can be lazy against. We had to do what we did in that first game and carry it through the rest of the night.

“We’ve had games where we’ve had great offensive nights and games where we’ve had great defensive nights. We’ve talked about putting it all together at once, and I think we did that tonight.”

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