LEWISTON — To say that Lewiston girls’ tennis is back deceptively implies that it ever went away.

The only losing season in Anita Murphy’s hall-of-fame coaching career ended with the Blue Devils sneaking into the 2013 Class A East playoffs, thanks to a late-season win over Mt. Blue.

“I never told the girls that if we didn’t make the playoffs it would be the first time. I just didn’t want to put that pressure on them,” Murphy said. “They say everything goes in cycles. I think that was a pretty quick cycle.”

On the heels of that 5-8 campaign, Lewiston entered 2014 with modest goals that were a far cry from its 12 state championships and six runner-up honors in the previous 35 years.

The Blue Devils wanted to improve. Back in familiar territory at 8-1, entering the final week of the regular season, they’ve done precisely that.

“I think a lot of us practiced over the winter. We were really coming into this season wanting to win it, and we set ourselves up for success, I guess,” senior co-captain Kenzie Labadie said. “We try to work together and try to communicate as much as we can, and I think that’s really beneficial.”

Monday’s regular-season home finale against Cony will be the 500th match of Murphy’s career.

Lewiston is 429-70 since 1979. From 2006 to 2011, no other Class A program celebrated a state title.

“We have our confidence back, but that doesn’t mean we’re taking anybody lightly, either,” sophomore Maddi Roy said.

Roy, No. 1 in singles, headlines an ongoing youth movement.

The Devils lost only two players from the previous year’s team. Of the two dozen who turned out this spring, Labadie and Jenessa Talarico are the lone seniors, and their experience is deceiving. Neither played tennis until their sophomore and junior year, respectively.

“Last year was the first time I picked up a tennis racket. I just connected with it from the start,” said Talarico, who also played field hockey, basketball and lacrosse. “Last year was my first year and I played first doubles, so we were a young, inexperienced team. This year we’re more experienced and ready.”

Roy played only doubles as a freshman before beating out junior Kyleigh Letourneau for the top distinction in singles, both in a preseason ladder match and in a rematch.

“Kyleigh was really the first one who taught me to hit it competitively,” Roy said. “It’s not like an on-team rivalry. We love each other and we like to challenge each other all the time.”

Freshman Maddie LeBlond has settled in at third singles. Talarico is paired with junior Claudia Dionne at first doubles. Sophomore Alanna Taylor teams with Labadie in second doubles.

Challenges at practice are common. Murphy, the 71-year-old coach who keeps meticulous records of every match her teams have ever played, said that her second through fifth singles players are close in ability.

Freshman Lizzie Michaud has stepped in as a singles and doubles substitute and would be starting for most teams.

“The only thing I do not like about coaching is when they play ladder matches,” Murphy said. “I have to stay away, because I don’t want to say ‘good shot’ to one and not say it to the other.”

“I was really surprised to see how many girls wanted those spots,” Labadie added. “I think overall it helped us all better ourselves, because we trying to outplay each other.”

Lewiston ranks No. 3 in the current Class A East Heal Points.

Competition is close there, as well. The Devils have beaten No. 2 Mt. Ararat and lost to No. 4 Hampden. No. 1 Brunswick looms in the final match of the regular season.

“We’ve been taking practice more seriously, because we didn’t do as well as we wanted to last year,” Talarico said. “We want to make it to at least regionals. That’s what we’re hoping for, but we’ll see.”

Even though the Devils are separated by only 36 months from their most recent state championship, that might as well be the 36 seasons that Murphy has been coaching, as far as her younger players are concerned.

It’s long enough that they don’t seem to feel the pressure that comes with tradition, and that’s fine with their leader.

“Years ago I would always say I hope to make the playoffs. That’s what we aspire to do. You never think, ‘I want to win a state championship.’ A coach shouldn’t be doing that. You don’t need to put that kind of pressure on the girls,” Murphy said. “They know I have high expectations for them. I know what they can do. They know what they need to work on. They work well together and they have fun, and that’s what I want.”


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