Looking Back: TJ Methvin used focus and intensity to stand out for Lewiston's girls' basketball and tennis teams

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TJ Methvin Sylvester finished her high school basketball career as Lewiston’s all-time leading scorer. (Submitted photo)

When you ask Terijo Methvin Sylvester’s former coaches about their star athlete, the words that come to mind are “focused” and “tough,” and usually to extremes.

Through her time at Lewiston High School and beyond, Methvin Sylvester has continued to exemplify these qualities in everything that she does, from playing through injuries to fighting cancer.

Methvin Sylvester, who goes by TJ, learned these qualities early on. She played both basketball and tennis from a young age; tennis as more of a hobby before high school, basketball since second grade. Her father, Mike Methvin, was influential in her love of basketball.

TJ started playing basketball in Jay for travel teams in the local youth basketball league. In seventh grade, she moved to Lewiston. Also during that seventh-grade year, Mike started an Amateur Athletic Union team called the Maine Hurricanes, and was a crucial part of the spread of AAU across the state of Maine.

“It didn’t take much to get me into it,” Methvin Sylvester said. “Him (being) willing to move us around to different basketball events definitely helped.”

In addition to playing AAU, Methvin Sylvester also was the only female on the local Multi-Purpose Center team.

“(Head coach) Mike Childs was the driving factor in making me feel like I had that ability at that level,” Methvin Sylvester said.

By the time high school came around, Methvin Sylvester had already put in years of work on the hardwood, and it showed. She earned a starting job her freshman year at Lewiston, even though she was among the youngest players on the team.

“It was something I was really proud of. I had some really good athletes around me,” Methvin Sylvester said. “I looked up to them, but I was the baby of the group and it felt good to be entrusted to be with them. They were really good in their own right, so it gave me a sense of pride.”

After Mike McGraw took over as head coach, Methvin Sylvester’s sophomore year, a growing leadership role was entrusted to her. Even given her age, the role was never too big to handle.

“Although not blessed with speed, quickness and leaping ability, she still led or nearly led her teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, free throws and steals,” McGraw said. “This is a tribute to her amazing competitiveness and work ethic.”

In the spring of her sophomore year, Methvin Sylvester ditched softball for tennis after not enjoying the diamond as much as she once did. She knew she had to earn her role on the tennis team, and did so almost instantly.

“I think, at first, I wasn’t sure how good I could be at it, and if it was something I would excel at,” Methvin Sylvester said. “As the years went, it was something I wanted to be the best I could be at, and I wanted to be competitive in it. I didn’t want to settle for doubles, I wanted to get to singles.”

Methvin Sylvester competed in the second doubles role during her first year of tennis. Some of her fellow players didn’t quite know how to react to their new teammate and her unusual intensity when it came to athletics.

“She had a no-nonsense attitude,” head coach Anita Murphy said. “She was a very serious player. I hadn’t had a player that focused the way she could be when she was playing. The girls were kind of … they didn’t know how to take her. They didn’t feel she was approachable, but once they got to know her they respected her.”

Playing with Chrissy Pare, Methvin Sylvester went 10-1 her sophomore year on the tennis courts. She started her junior season in the first doubles position, a spot away from playing singles for the Blue Devils. Lewiston lost to Caribou in the Class A state title match, a match in which Methvin Sylvester lost for her second and final time as a high school tennis player.

“I think she lost that match,” Murphy said. “She played first doubles with Niki Pelletier and they lost in two straight sets, and that was maybe a little devastating to her. I remember the coach of Caribou, and I remember when they beat us, it was close, he made a comment, ‘Watch out for them next year.’”

Methvin Sylvester returned her senior season in the third singles spot to fight for a title, the previous year’s loss only further inspiring her. She went undefeated and helped Lewiston win the Class A tennis championship.

“She took it very serious,” Murphy said. “She had fun and got along with the girls, but at first they didn’t know how to take her. Even myself as a coach, I had to get to know her really well. When she was on the court, her focus was right on that court. I don’t care if anything was going on, on that court she was so focused. That’s really an asset. It’s such a mental game, anyway.”

Success on the basketball didn’t quite reach the heights it did as the tennis courts, but Methvin Sylvester took on a captain’s role in both her junior and senior seasons at Lewiston and led by example.

“She expressed herself best as a fierce player,” McGraw said. “She was our Larry Bird. Not just a good player, but an intelligent player. She was a role model of a player for younger players to emulate with that drive and determination to play the game.”

One of the young players that Methvin Sylvester helped shape was Lynn Girouard, a freshman when Methvin Sylvester was a senior and now the Lewiston girls’ basketball head coach. Girouard was a teammate of Methvin Sylvester’s prior to high school as a 12-year-old on the Maine Hurricanes, the AAU team Mike Methvin coached.

“She was a hard worker, very determined, very focused,” Girouard said. “Always just ready to work, gave 110 percent every practice, every game.

“You knew TJ was going to work her hardest every time she hit the floor. … We went all over playing AAU, and she was the same: on the court she was great, and off the court she was a great person.”

Everyone seems to have a story about Methvin Sylvester’s tenacity and toughness when it comes to sports.

Like this one: During her junior year, she threw out her back the day before Lewiston’s playoff game and ended up in the emergency room. She tried to play through the injury, but the pain meds wouldn’t let her go.

“She showed up to the bus with a significant limp,” McGraw said. “Nobody was going to tell her she was not going to play. She got taped up and went out for warm-ups, and if it had not been for the painkillers making her a bit unsteady and reaction time slowed, she would have played. I had to make a decision to not play her for her safety. I can tell you, she gave that look, that could-kill look.”

Methvin Sylvester’s senior year, the basketball team added freshmen like Girouard and Kristi Royer to the mix, which added enjoyment to Methvin Sylvester’s final high school basketball season because she gained players with a similar drive.

“There are players who play basketball and there are basketball players, and it was nice to have people who were on board and wanted it like you did, and it was nice to have some pretty passionate players on the team,” Methvin Sylvester said. “It was nice to have a little extra talent on your team.”

Methvin Sylvester finished as the all-time leading scorer for the Blue Devils — Royer and Girouard both eventually passed her up — but one thing still sticks in the back of her head.

“I have it ingrained in my mind that I missed the 1,000 points,” Methvin Sylvester said. “I was only 34 points away.”

After high school, Methvin Sylvester, who lives in Richmond with her husband Mark Sylvester, went to Bowdoin to get her degree in Visual Arts and Environmental Studies. She played one year of basketball at Bowdoin, but her back injury was too much to play through so her basketball career came to a close.

Her degree and her interests took her into architecture, something she took classes on at Lewiston High School. She worked for Oxford Homes, Sace Elegant and then Hammond Lumber before starting her own business called Noteworthy Designs.

During her work at Hancock Lumber, Methvin Sylvester faced her toughest challenge yet: colon cancer.

“In 2010, I was diagnosed with colon cancer,” Methvin Sylvester said. “And shortly after that I found out I have a genetic mutation known as lynch syndrome that increases my chances for a handful of different cancers, most likely the reason for my colon cancer. So any time I get to spread awareness of Lynch syndrome, I try to. Screenings for colon cancer are a yearly requirement for me due to Lynch and my history with colon cancer.”

Doctors caught Methvin Sylvester’s cancer at stage 2 so they were able to catch it in time. She is still vulnerable to other cancers due to her lynch syndrome but is using her legendary focus to educate everyone she can.

“Lynch increases risk for a handful of cancers for me, so screenings play an important role in staying healthy,” Methvin Sylvester said. “I think by sharing my cancer and Lynch history with family and friends I’m helping in my own small way to inform those around me about a condition that is not really that rare but not many people have heard of.”

TJ Methvin Sylvester lives in Richmond with her husband, Mark. (Submitted photo)TJ Methvin Sylvester was a four-year starter for the Lewiston High School girls’ basketball team. (Submitted photo)TJ Methvin, now TJ Methvin Sylvester, hold the state championship trophy after Lewiston won the 1996 Class A title when she was a senior. (Submitted photo)TJ Methvin Sylvester served as captain of the Lewiston girls’ basketball team during her junior and senior seasons. (Submitted photo)

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