Beth Murphy retired as Westbrook’s coach after last season, but her time away didn’t last long.
Beth Murphy was done. Retired.
After 22 years and 201 career victories, she would no longer coach the Westbrook High field hockey team.
She told her players and school officials as much last fall after the 2013 season ended. Her players cried. School officials began a search for her replacement.
Turns out the best replacement for Beth Murphy was … Beth Murphy.
Last May, after school officials said they couldn’t find a suitable replacement, she agreed to come back, much to the delight of everyone.
“We had hoped this is what would happen,” said Lea Hopkins, a senior halfback for the Blazes. “I had a feeling it might happen. I’m glad it did.”
“I had promised those kids when I retired that I wouldn’t leave them hanging if they didn’t get the right candidate,” said Murphy. “I’m happy to be back because I know these kids are going to come out and play hard every night.”
Under Murphy, Westbrook has earned a reputation as one of the most consistent, fundamentally sound, competitive and well-coached teams in the SMAA. The Blazes have never won a regional title, but are consistently among the top playoff contenders.
“Her return is great for the whole league,” said Portland Coach Beth Arsenault. “For people who have been around here for a long time, if you played field hockey or softball in southern Maine, you knew who Faith Littlefield (the late Bonny Eagle coach) was, whether you played for her or not.
“I think Beth has that same iconic coaching image. All my girls have always known who she is. She commands respect, and she’s a very respectful coach.”
And, said Hopkins, she’s a great teacher.
“She knows the game,” said Hopkins. “She’s really good at noticing what we’re doing wrong and helping us fix it.”
When she told her players she wouldn’t be returning this fall, they worried about what would happen to the program. And not just because she is a good field hockey coach.
“She doesn’t only get close to you on the field,” said Kerigan Demers, a senior halfback for Westbrook. “But she’ll get close to you personally, too. She’s someone we all look up to.”
Murphy, 53, is a physical education teacher at the high school and feels that gives her a chance to know her players in a different way.
“That’s the relationship, the bond that you get,” she said. “There are kids out there who don’t have home lives and I’m there for them to talk to.
“It goes beyond field hockey.”
Murphy decided a couple of years ago that she wanted to stop coaching soon, not because of problems with parents or players, or because she was tired of the sport.
“I felt times had changed and I wanted to see if someone else could come in and better the program from where I had it,” she said. “I guess the reputation is that Westbrook is always there, but I didn’t get (the program) to the next level.
“I just wanted to see if someone else could come in and do it, take it to the next level.”
She’s back with a young team. The Blazes made it to the Western Class A quarterfinals last year but graduated nine seniors. She’ll carry two freshmen on the varsity team.
And that’s all right with her.
The players have the passion to play and are willing to learn. So does she.
“I still have the passion and I still feel I can give something to these kids,” said Murphy.
She said she doesn’t know how long she will coach, just that “I’m there for as long as needed.”
Demers hopes that’s for a long time: “I think she should keep coming back until she hits 300 (wins).”