Gardiner girls basketball coach Mike Gray hugs senior center Lizzy Gruber during a postgame awards ceremony after the Tigers fell to Lawrence in the Class A North championship game on Feb. 24 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — It’s the end of an era for the Gardiner Area High School girls basketball program.

Just three days after the Tigers fell to Lawrence in the Class A North final, which marked the end of Lizzy Gruber’s standout high school career, head coach Mike Gray announced his retirement after 19 seasons.

The timing, the 43-year-old Gray said Monday, was right.

“I have been thinking about this for awhile, and in the end it was just time,” said Gray, a Gardiner resident who teaches math at the high school. “I have a son (Jackson) who will be in high school next year and I want to see him play. The way the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference schedule works, if the girls are on the road then the boys would be home. That would make it tough.”

Gray said the 61-54 loss to Lawrence in the Class A North final Friday had no impact on his decision.

“All that meant was I could hand in my resignation this week and not next week,” he said. “It would’ve been great to go out on a high note, but it wasn’t meant to be. It unfolded the way it did. Lawrence out-played us. It stings, but what can we do?”


Gardiner Athletic Director Nathan Stubbert said Gray’s decision was not a surprise, but added that it will leave a void.

“It’s going to be weird not having him coach,” he said. “I am sad to see him go. He had a great run here. He’s been a great coach here. I think all the girls respected him. He’s going to be hard to replace. We had been talking about this for awhile now, and I tried to convince him to stay. After the game Friday, he just said, ‘yes, this is it.'”

Nokomis senior Camryn King watches as Gardiner senior Lizzy Gruber rebounds during a Class A North girls basketball semifinal Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Gray helped lead the Tigers into a KVAC power. Gardiner reached the Class A North final in two of the last three seasons. It entered this tournament undefeated and the No. 1 seed, thanks to the play of Gruber — a Miss Maine Basketball semifinalist and one of the more dominant players in the state.

However, the Tigers were denied in their quest to win a Gold Ball.

Gray said that while he will continue teaching, he is looking forward to have a little more free time.

“I am looking forward to having Christmas off,” he said. “My wife (Joy) and I had been talking for awhile about when the right time would be.We’ve had a lot of conversations. I’m looking forward to having some time in which I am not stressed out about basketball. It will be nice to go to school and leave at 2:30 p.m. and not do all that extra work. It will be a nice change of pace.”


Gruber finished with a double-double (26 points and 17 rebounds) in the loss to Lawrence at the Augusta Civic Center. While not a shocking upset, it was an upset nonetheless.

“Obviously, it’s not how we wanted it to go,” said Gruber, a senior, who will play at Division I St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia next season. 

Gruber’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining in her career cut the Lawrence lead to 60-54 at the time. It wasn’t enough, but it did what Gruber had done for the Tigers since first stepping on the court as a 6-foot freshman four years ago.

It provided a sense of hope.

Gardiner coach Mike Gray talks to the Tigers during a timeout against Skowhegan in a 2020 Class A North semifinal game at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“It hurts because we’ve won so much this season, but at the same time we’ve done so much this season,” Gruber said. “You can’t take away from that at all.”

As the post-game awards ceremony unfurled, Gruber sat on the bench staring across an empty court. As family, friends and well-wishers stopped to pat her shoulder or whisper a word of encouragement in her ear, Gruber never flinched and never released her stare from across an empty court.


A perfect season. Hopes for a Class A state championship. The topper on a career that garnered both 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. All of it dashed by Lawrence, a team the Tigers (20-1) had beaten twice during the regular season.

“From the moment we walked into our very first practice this season, I said, ‘We win a state championship or you lose your last game ever,’” Gruber said. “There’s no other way I wanted this to go than to win a state championship, but very few people have that happen. I really thought we could do it. Maybe if we play (Lawrence) two out of three times, we do it. You just never know.”

Gardiner was on pace to win its first regional title since 1975 and only the second state championship in program history when it ran into a Lawrence team hitting its stride at just the right time.

“We knew we had as good a chance as this team has ever had. It stings,” Gray said after the game. “We’ll be disappointed, but we got outplayed by a really good team. It wasn’t that we made too many mistakes or things like that. We just got outplayed. In the long run, that probably makes it a little easier.”

Gardiner won’t be the same next winter, not with seven graduating seniors and the departure of Gray.

“This group is special,” Gray said of his seniors. “I love this group of kids so much. This group of seniors, it just feels like they’ve been around forever. They were around when they were in third or fourth grade, they’d come to our games and always be sitting behind our bench even then.

“I could never thank them enough for what they’ve done for this program.”


Staff writer Travis Barrett contributed to this story.

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