Legendary Family Puts State Title Defenses on Hold
LEWISTON, ME- For one legendary Maine coach, the month of June is synonymous with championship tennis. Or at least it was until this year.
In her 42 years of coaching, the 77-year-old Anita Murphy has built from the ground up arguably the most prestigious tennis program in the state of Maine— Lewiston High School (LHS) Girls Varsity Tennis. Murphy has won 13 state championships, eclipsed 500 career wins and has coached both her daughter and granddaughter.
It wasn’t until this year though that she faced her most intriguing challenge yet: missing an entire season due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“I was lost at first. I kept hoping, week by week, that maybe we’ll be able to get out. And then we got word it wasn’t going to happen, and it was very difficult,” Murphy said
Coming off her team’s 13th Class A State Championship last June, Murphy and her players were prepared for a successful title defense. With the team only losing one senior from the 2019 championship and Murphy’s granddaughter, Molly Chicoine, set to serve as one of the three senior captains, the pieces were in place for an historic season.
“I feel we had a really good chance of repeating this year. Our top singles players and a top doubles team came back. That hurt the most, the fact that they knew it was right there for them,” Murphy said. “Obviously they’re pretty upset, but we’re not the only sport that went through this. We definitely plan to honor our captains like we always do before they leave for college.”
“I was looking forward to bringing the team together and being a leader that encouraged everyone,” Chicoine said. “It would have been cool leading the team with the other two captains, Maddy Foster and Roslynn Walius, considering we’ve all been playing together for years.”
It’s surely a bittersweet way to end a high school career. Although the girls will not get that opportunity to bring home one more title to Lewiston, they do leave LHS as reigning state champions.
“Remember this, you’re still defending champs, and you will be going into next year, and no one can take that away from you,” Murphy said to her team during the spring.
“I think the most disappointing part was not being able to have that last season with Mémère (what Chicoine calls Murphy). That time with her is the most meaningful, and I would give anything to have another tennis season with her,” Chicoine said.
“We’ve been handling it pretty well though,” she added. “I try to stay positive and look at what we accomplished. Most people can’t even say they are state champs, never mind winning it with their grandmother as their coach. We played our hearts out that last match and at least we ended on a good note.”
The 2019 championship truly was a special one. It was the program’s first in eight years, the only one Chicoine won with Murphy, and since it was played at their home site, it brought together much of the Lewiston and neighboring communities together to rally around the team.
One special fan in attendance that day was Murphy’s daughter and Chicoine’s aunt, Wendy Poutre, who just one week earlier, led her own Portsmouth (NH) High girls’ team to its second consecutive Division II State Title.
“It was an incredible thrill to be able to watch my mom and Molly win the state title in Lewiston,” Poutre said. “It was an electric atmosphere with folks from both sides applauding great shots and decisions. My Portsmouth Clippers had defeated Bow in the State Finals the week before, so I was free to be a nervous wreck as a highly interested spectator.”
Since taking over as head coach at Portsmouth in 2014, Poutre has been to five state championships including winning the past two.
“It has been an honor and a thrill to be able to continue my family's tradition of coaching high school tennis,” Poutre said. “In no way though can I take credit for the success of the Clipper teams. That really belongs to the terrific and coachable girls who get on the court and compete.”
The family tradition doesn’t stop there. Poutre, like Chicoine, played for Murphy at Lewiston High. She was a graduate of the Class of 1982. Her father, Rene Chicoine, coached the LHS Boys to seven state titles. Rene was succeeded by his son and Molly’s uncle, Ron Chicoine, who won eight state titles.
“I think the most important things I've learned from my mom, dad and brother are: create a team of integrity where players earn their spots; focus on the depth and overall strength of the team; grill doubles strategy, play high percentage tennis and instill confidence through mental toughness so players compete at their best. Also, you need to have some fun,” Poutre said.
- Anita Murphy with her granddaughter Molly Chicoine after winning the state title in 2019.
- Anita Murphy with daughter Wendy Poutre.
- Anita Murphy coaching her team in Lewiston.
- Anita Murphy and Molly Chicoine.
- Anita Murphy and Molly Chicoine.
To this day, Murphy stresses a firm but fun atmosphere at Lewiston—one where players look forward to playing and earn their spots based on results.
“My top priority always has to be fun. I’ll play games where the kids can earn a $5 gift card, and that just makes them concentrate more,” she said. “Everyone has to earn their spot as well. This isn’t a situation where a coach chooses who he/she wants to put in the lineup. The numbers don’t lie, and Molly, like everyone else who earned a spot, did it themselves.”
“Playing for Mémère is amazing. She has higher standards for me, I think, so I would try each practice and match to play how she expects me to play,” Chicoine said. “I definitely have some pressure, not just from her, but from my entire family who is so involved in tennis. It’s good though and it’s definitely made me a stronger player. We also have a lot of fun.”
Murphy’s continued success is based on creating a fun playing atmosphere from the beginning. Lewiston is a blue-collar town without indoor facilities, and many of Murphy’s players never played indoors or even took lessons. So for 28 years, she ran a relaxed summer program that allowed upward of 200 kids per year to learn the game and compete. The program brought the community together in a way few others had before and served as the primary feeder system for the high school teams.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had some really good, down-to-earth players, and when you have success, people want to play. Success breeds success,” Murphy said. “Way back, we didn’t have many sports competing with tennis in spring, so it made it easier. Now we’re competing mainly with lacrosse.”
And 42 years later, Murphy is still as enthusiastic as she was when she began.
“When Molly (my only granddaughter and youngest out of eight grandkids) was born, people asked if I’d stick around to coach her now that I finally had a girl, and I said, ‘do you know how old I’ll be then?’ And then Molly asked me in junior high if I’d stick around to coach her, and I said, ‘Molly, I’ll be there as long as I can,’ and low and behold, here I am having coached her and I’m very happy,” Murphy said.
“I think it’s pretty amazing that my grandmother, grandfather, uncle and aunt all coached high school tennis and they have all won state championships,” Chicoine said. “Hopefully one day I’ll be able to coach a team to such a victory just like they did.”
Murphy will be without her granddaughter next season for the first time in four years, as she is off to continue her tennis career at Husson University. Murphy’s plan is to continue coaching.
“I already can’t wait for next year,” Murphy said. “We have four of the same girls coming back, and I’m looking forward to having them on my team again. Once winter comes, I’ll really start to get excited. I’m hoping things will turn around and we’ll get the team back.”