JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — In our digital series ‘High School Standouts,’ Digital Sports Reporter Michael Epps features local athletes with incredible talent, hoping to take that talent to the next level.
These are athletes that stand out both on and off the field.
This week’s High School Standout is Griffen Nickels, a senior tennis player at Science Hill High School.
The Science Hill tennis team is headed back to the state tournament in team play.
Senior Griffen Nickels has a chance to win some additional hardware, competing in singles play as well.
“I’m just happy I have a season to be honest I’m just happy to be able to play and go to state actually try to compete,” Nickels said.
Nickels went as a sophomore and was hoping to go as a junior before COVID crushed that hope, but instead of sitting around last spring, he stayed busy.
“Well I was on the tennis court elsewhere just not playing for the school and I really wanted to make state last year but I have this year and that’s what matters,” Nickels said.
He trained every day at Johnson City Country Club, safely, with another coach of his. He continued to hone in on his skills, determined to take that time to keep improving.
“I started working out over quarantine and then we’d hit around 2.5-3 hours a day every day of the summer and along with that I went running and agility drills a lot of stuff to get me ready,” Nickels said.
It showed when he came out this spring and lost just two matches all season long.
“Immediately that summer I’ll never forget I was at the country club and here he is running hills running the street with one of his hitting coaches putting the work in and that’s who he is he’s a hard worker he’s never gonna take a day off,” Science Hill head tennis coach Kelly Lane said.
“Backhand is my best shot serve volleys and overheads anything at the net I like doubles a lot because it’s at the net a lot and it’s a team sport more,” Nickels said.
While he’s zoned in on achieving his high goals, he has not lost sight of why he’s here: to have fun playing tennis.
“He really has he’s so much fun to be around you see him here at practice he’s so lighthearted dancing to the music he’s had a great time but when the lights come on and it’s time to focus that’s exactly who what you’re gonna get out of Griffen,” Lane said.
“I think that’s why I’m feeling so good this year this is my last opportunity after this I’m done so I think I’m just gonna soak up what I can and figure it out,” Nickels said.
This mindset came around in his sophomore season, when his older brother, a senior at the time, joined the tennis team to play with him for one season.
“My brother played golf throughout all four years, he was really good at golf they won state twice and they were really good at golf and then his senior year he just wanted to be with me and play this last season and just have fun, just his support, his support was awesome and him being on the team that year that was his only year being on the team and that made it a lot of fun we played some doubles and had a really fun time,” Nickels said.
That was a special sophomore season for Nickels, to go to state for team and individual play and share that experience with his brother.
“It’s always a good time here and when you go to state we don’t just go there for tennis we go for team bonding and we go play laser tag and ride on go carts and do a lot of fun stuff with the team it’s awesome it’s a blast,” Nickels said.
Now, they’re headed back to Murfreesboro this week, looking to make some history in Science Hill team tennis.
“We’ve been training hard we just need energy we gotta come down there and just play our games,” Nickels said.
He also wants to be a state singles champion, to cap off an impressive career for Toppers tennis.
“It’s awesome got a lot of help from coach Lane, ricky and it’s just a great opportunity hopefully I do well,” Nickels said.
Follow this series throughout the year as WJHL’s Michael Epps finds the High School Standout every week on WJHL.com.