Edward Little High School didn’t have to look very far to find its next girls’ basketball coach — just down to the other end of the bench.
Chris Cifelli, who has been an assistant with the program under Craig Jipson for 12 years, will take the reins of the program going forward, succeeding Jipson, who stepped down after this past season.
“Two things with Chris, first and foremost, he’s a top-quality person,” EL Athletic Director Dan Deshaies said. “Secondly, I’ve seen him coach with Craig the past 12 years here, and he’s been a great coach. He’s been a part of a staff that’s had the team in the top two of Eastern or Northern Maine almost every year. He definitely deserves this chance.”
Cifelli, a teacher and varsity girls’ soccer coach at Leavitt Area High School in Turner, will continue in those roles, as well.
“There was definitely a feeling of, ‘Wow, those are some big shoes to fill,'” Cifelli said. “EL girls’ basketball has been such a staple at the Civic Center for the past 12 years. There’s definitely some pressure to keep that reputation. But at the same time, it’s a challenge, we’ve invested so much as coaches, we want to be good caretakers of what we put together.”
One of his biggest supporters, it turned out, was Jipson himself.
“One of the things that put me over the top on this, one of the people who gave me the most encouragement was Craig,” Cifelli said. “Him telling me to put my name in really kind of solidified to me that, yeah, I can do this, and that he had confidence in me to hand the program off to me at this point.”
Prior to being Jipson’s assistant for 12 seasons, Cifelli was an assistant at Lewiston for one year, and prior to that the varsity head coach at Leavitt. He’s also been the varsity baseball coach at Leavitt, but recently stopped coaching in the spring season to spend more time with his family.
But come basketball season, Cifelli said, he’s all in.
“There’s a lot of things you look at and say, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” Cifelli said. “I really started to buy into the pressure defense Craig brought, for example. But we will have to make some changes based on personnel at some point, too. We’ve been blessed with some size in the past, and that definitely dictates what you can do offensively. But I think we’re going to see some subtle changes there, and a few touches here and there, just to keep the rest of the KVAC honest. Where we’ve been successful for 12 years, there are certain things that will stay in place until people figure them out.”
Any changes he tries to make, Deshaies thinks, will be better received given his tenure with the team.
“The girls know him, they respect him, they know he knows the game,” Deshaies said. “It should be a smooth transition.”
Cifelli, while understandably harboring some jitters, said he’s ready to make the leap.
“I’ve always said to people, it’s a heck of a lot easier being the person making the suggestions than the person making the decisions,” Cifelli said. “That’s going to be a big part of my transition back into doing that. But also seeing the bigger picture, too, it was a little easier to focus on one or two things that Craig was looking for, but now having to see the bigger picture, not just in the immediate sense of the season, but also further down into the lower levels, in the middle school and the lower levels.”
With Edward Little perennially near the top of the league standings, Cifelli’s efforts in developing the future of the program will be key.
“The girls will be asked to do a lot, and it will be a transition for them as well,” Cifelli said. “Hopefully, we’ll keep the same intensity and the same reputation around the league.”