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Oh Brother! Science Hill siblings compete as doubles teams

Jeff Birchfield • Updated May 1, 2019 at 7:19 PM

Brotherly love was more like brotherly 40-love for the Science Hill tennis team Tuesday night in Kingsport.

The Hilltoppers had three pairs of brothers make up its doubles teams in a match at Dobyns-Bennett. The formula worked as all three sets of brothers won their matches.

Gavin and Griffen Nickels approached Lane early in the season about playing a match together. They hadn’t been paired together since Griffen is normally the No. 1 player for the Hilltoppers and Gavin is the No. 6 seed.

The pairing proved tough to handle as the No. 1 doubles team. The Nickels boys rolled to an 8-2 win over the Indians’ Ben Allen and Omkar Bhat.

“Gavin came to me and told me, ‘Coach, if you can do one thing for me, it would mean the world to me. I want to go out as a senior and help this team, but I would love to play one doubles match with him,’ ” Lane said. “When he told me that, I loved the idea.

“I was like, ‘Why don’t we go a step further? We can have Gavin and Griff play. We will have Jacob and Isaac Johnson and have Erik and Evan Liu down there. We can call it, “Brothers Day,” and have everybody do it. Gavin and all the boys got fired up about it. It was something special and a cool moment for the families.”

The concept of brothers teaming is nothing new. 

Great professional combinations have included the McEnroes, the Jensens and the Murrays. Ranking at the top of the list are Bob and Mike Bryan, who together have won over 1,000 matches and 114 professional titles, including 16 Grand Slams.

With Science Hill, the decision to put the Johnson brothers together made sense from a competitive standpoint. 

Jacob has played at No. 2 most of the year with Isaac at No. 3 singles. They played doubles at the district championships two years ago, although Isaac wants to compete in singles this senior season.

As the No. 2 team, they handily won 8-1 over the Dobyns-Bennett duo of Cole Ridings and Matthew Frye.

“They are a very solid team,” Lane said. “It’s cool to see the dynamic of them working with each other. It was a chance to go out there and compete, but also enjoy the match as brothers.”

The Liu brothers hadn’t been a staple in the top six, but they proved up to the challenge. In singles, they each won matches 6-1, 6-0 before teaming for an 8-4 doubles victory over the Indians’ Jake Smith and Mason Robinette.

“Erik and Evan had come a long way since the beginning of the year,” Lane said. “A lot of the credit goes to John Lucchesi and Andy Pullen out at Blackthorn. They’ve been going to the guys at Blackthorn a long time and they’ve taken their game to the next level. We’ve just tried to add a little to that. I’m proud of Evan and Erik. They play phenomenal tennis.”

For Lane, the evening brought back memories of playing doubles with his brother, Cameron, when the two were at Rhea County High School. The Lane brothers won the majority of their matches with Kelly better at the net and Cameron stronger on the baseline.

“I can’t help but smile and laugh. There are times as brothers little things will make you upset, but there are also moments that no one else can understand,” Kelly Lane said. “When I look back, I’m glad our coach put us together because I do cherish and appreciate it now. It’s cool to think about the little things we get excited about. I hope these boys have the same experience.”

REST OF THE BOYS MATCH

With it a special night, Lane readjusted the lineup and Jacob Johnson played at No. 1 singles where he won 6-0, 6-3 against Allen.

Gavin Nickels moved up to No. 2 and defeated Bhat 6-2, 7-6 with a 7-3 tiebreaker.

Logan Mosley and Zach Clemons won matches as the No. 3 and No. 4 singles players to give the Science Hill boys a clean sweep.

LADY ’TOPPERS COMPETE

Science Hill struggled on the girls’ side, losing a 7-2 match against a Dobyns-Bennett team which is 14-0 after reaching the state semifinals last season.

Emily Young pulled out a dramatic win at No. 6 singles. She split the first two sets 2-6 and 7-6 with the Lady Indians’ Kendall Jackson. She then won a 10-5 tiebreaker in the deciding set.

Science Hill’s No. 3 doubles team of Shan Shan Liang and Young also pulled out a 9-7 win over Chandni Bhat and Elise Rogers.

The No. 1 doubles team of Kara Lucchesi and Allie Torbett fought hard, losing an 8-5 match to D-B’s Lainey Hill and Sydney Berry.

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