Gardiner’s Lizzy Gruber, left, grabs a rebound above Nokomis’ Cam King during a girls basketball game Tuesday in Newport. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

On a historic night for Gardiner’s Lizzy Gruber, there was a moment when the senior’s talent made an entire gymnasium laugh.

Led by Gruber, who had just hauled in her 1,000th career rebound, the Tigers possessed the ball and held an eight-point lead in what would be a 61-55 win at Nokomis. The Warriors had to foul to get Gardiner to the line, something head coach Chelsea Crockett was urging her players to do.

After Crockett’s shouts of “Foul! Foul!” rang throughout the gymnasium, Gardiner eventually got the ball to Gruber as a pair of Nokomis players made contact with the 6-foot-4 center to draw the whistle. It was not the right player to foul, and Crockett let her players know it.

“When I said foul, I didn’t mean foul the best foul shooter on the floor,” Crockett said as Gruber walked to the line. It wasn’t so much a yelling tone as much it was an amused one, but it was loud enough to draw snickers from players and spectators alike in all corners of the gym.

Opposing coaches and players know that Gruber can do it all because they’ve seen her do things like she did in her 39-point, 18-rebound effort in Newport. In a swan song that’s seen her become more of a force than ever, Tuesday night’s accolade is just the start of a season that’s already truly special — and is quickly becoming even more so.

When you watch sports over the years, there are those certain kinds of players that just capture the spotlight. Folks in central Maine saw it last year in Jaycie Christopher and Cooper Flagg; during my time covering sports in eastern Maine, I saw it in George Stevens Academy’s Taylor Schildroth and Houlton’s Kolleen Bouchard. There’s an “it” factor certain players have that you can’t really put your fingers on until you’ve seen it for yourself.


There was a level of that “it” factor evident in Gruber when I watched Gardiner beat Cony in its season opener a month ago, but on Tuesday, there was simply no doubt. She used her frame to dominate Nokomis inside on both ends and added the outside shooting touch that turns bigs from nuisances into downright terrors. It was a moment in which you could tell you were watching an elite player grabbing the mantle in front of your very eyes. 

Gruber, of course, was already a lauded player before the season began. She’d already been on the radar of prominent college programs for a while, having signed in September to play at Division I St. Joseph’s University, and she’d already put up big numbers, having recorded 18.3 points and 16.6 rebounds per game last year. When discussion swirled as to who might win Miss Maine Basketball this season, her name was frequently the first mentioned.

What’s been different about this year, though, has been the way Gruber has seized that spotlight. A year ago, Christopher and Flagg got their turns in the sun as their runs to Gold Ball wins and Gatorade Player of the Year honors captivated the state. Now, it’s Gruber’s turn, and a player who had already been giving opponents headaches for three years is reveling in it.

You wouldn’t know that from talking to her, though. Gruber is quick to deflect praise about her game and her exploits to her teammates, whose skill sets complement her perfectly. Taylor Takatsu aids Gruber on the boards and pickpockets offensive threats elsewhere on the floor; Megan Gallagher can get her the ball with ease and sneak behind for 3-pointers, and in the event Gallagher is locked up, Gardiner can also get a clutch assist from McKenna Johnson or a triple from Emilee Brown.

Gardiner senior Lizzy Gruber, right, lines up against Nokomis’s Eliya Drummond prior to some free throws being taken during a girls basketball game Tuesday night in Newport. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“It’s really not just me; it’s the pieces that are around me,” Gruber said. “If you have no one around you, there’s not really much you can do, no matter who you are. You see that a lot of the time where there are some great players who don’t have much around them, but I have the best teammates, and they’re always there for me to pick me up.”

Snatching 1,000 rebounds could very well only be scratching the surface in terms of what Gruber can accomplish this year. Her team, now 8-0, is the favorite to win the Class A North title and has a shot at a Gold Ball; she’s a strong bet to capture Miss Maine Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year honors; she’s only 10 points away from reaching 1,000 in that category as well and can do so when Gardiner faces Morse on Thursday.

Reaching 1,000 career points two days after doing so in rebounds would make it an all-time week for Gruber. Such a 48-hour stretch would be the microcosm of an all-time career for the St. Joe’s-bound senior, who took Crockett’s shout that her players should have fouled someone else as an encomium.

“I work hard in practices and games to earn compliments like that, and they don’t have to say things like that, so when they do it, it really means a lot,” Gruber said. “A lot of coaches have a lot of things to say, and things like that are on the nicer side of the things that they have to say.”

Does that mean some coaches have not-so-nice things to say about Gruber? Maybe, but admit it: Having to stop a player doing the things she’s done — and is still doing — would leave you a bit angry, too.

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