He’s going to have to be.

Once the boys’ hockey coach at Lewiston High School, LeBlond has spent more time coaching club hockey at Bates College and youth hockey while maintaining his teaching job at Lewiston than he has coaching high school-aged athletes.

This spring, he’s jumping back into the fray. And what a fray. LeBlond is the new boys’ tennis coach for the vaunted Blue Devils’ program, and he will be the first tennis coach at Lewiston High School in more than 35 years from outside of the extended Chicoine-Murphy family.

“It’s certainly something I think about, and I haven’t talked with Rene (Chicoine, the boys’ coach from the 1970s through 2002), but certainly having talked with Ron (Chicoine, the boys’ coach from 2003-2011), and also Anita (Murphy, Ron’s mother and Lewiston girls’ tennis coach), it’s something we joke about, the fact that now there’s an outsider in here coaching,” LeBlond said.

LeBlond inherits a program that has enjoyed unparalleled success in the past decade, having won eight of the past nine Class A state titles under Ron Chicoine while losing only two matches during that run.

“This program’s just had a good group of good, solid players for 20 years now,” LeBlond said. “I got here in 1989, and starting in, I guess 1995, there have just been some outstanding players, for both sides, and not only outstanding in Maine, but pretty accomplished outside of Maine, as well.”

But LeBlond isn’t blinded by the program’s history. This year will mark a turning point for the team, which graduated all but two of its core members, the first true rebuild in more than a decade.

“We don’t have any of our singles guys returning from last year, and we only have two players returning with full-time match experience in Brett Vallee and Ben Chicoine,” LeBlond said.

“It’s definitely a different approach this year. We’ve lost a lot of the depth we had on the team,” Vallee, a senior, said. “Our main focus this year is to have fun. We’re clearly not as skilled, but we’re just as hard-working, and that hasn’t changed. We still have a solid core, we have some leadership to help the younger guys.”

Vallee, exchange student Denis Graef and Bryan Hall, who was essentially the Devils’ fourth singles player a year ago, are set to slot into the singles positions, with Ben Chicoine, who last year played doubles with older brother Alex, again anchoring the doubles teams.

And as for LeBlond’s ability to relate to the players?

“We were definitely excited,” Vallee said. “We knew at the end of the year last year that Ron wasn’t returning, we wanted to make sure we had someone coming in who is comfortable with us, and I had him as a teacher freshman year, and I know a couple others did, too. That comfort factor was important, because a lot of us just come out here because we like to play tennis, and we didn’t want to play for someone who didn’t understand that. Coach LeBlond understands that.”

“We have a lot fewer guys, but Coach is going to do a great job,” Ben Chicoine, Ron’s nephew, said. “I think he’s the best person there was to fill my uncle’s shoes, so I’m pretty happy about that.”

LeBlond, a lifelong tennis player, has also watched his kids play through the Lewiston youth program, run by Murphy. His daughter, Paige, currently plays on the girls’ team. That familiarity will go a long way toward helping him get acclimated.

“A lot of it is knowing Anita, as well,” LeBlond said. “A lot of these kids have been through the youth program, and Paige has worked it, too. It certainly makes it easier for me, dealing with different protocols, how you go about match day, managing matches, those kinds of things. She’s been a real big help.”

And on the court, LeBlond is already liking what he sees in terms of demeanor and tenacity. Technically, though, there’s still work to be done as the season begins.

“I think one of the big things right now, it’s just consistency, making sure everyone is working to be more consistent in all aspects of the game,” LeBlond said. “Especially in doubles, keeping the ball in play, and working on double faults. We haven’t played any real matches yet, but that seems to be one of the things I see playing early on.”

Lewiston and the rest of the KVAC begin play this week, and the target, rebuild or not, is still square on Lewiston’s back.

“I think we’re still going to do pretty well, but we’re going to have to work harder,” Ben Chicoine said. “We have to keep playing, and we’ll do all right.”

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