By the time Griffen Nickels finished up tests at school and got to the Liberty Bell Courts for the Region 1 large schools team championship match against Morristown West, the Hilltoppers were well on their way to victory.
They got all the scoring they needed in the No. 2 through 5 singles matches for a 4-0 win over the Trojans. Science Hill repeated as region champs and advanced to the sectional round, where they await the winner of a match between Halls and Knox Catholic. Science Hill will host one of the Knoxville area teams at a time to be determined.
“We’ve been on the journey all year and when these guys step on these courts, they’re locked in,” Science Hill coach Kelly Lane said. “They were ready to play and they took care of business.”
They sure did.
Wednesday’s match took a little over an hour. No. 3 player Isaac Johnson was the first off the court with a 6-0, 6-0 shellacking of West’s Ian Sexton. Drew Keith soon followed suit at No. 4, romping to a 6-0, 6-0 win over the Trojans’ Alex Ingram.
Jacob Johnson, at No. 2, won 6-1, 6-0 over West’s Matthew Salansky and No. 5 player Grady Owen took a 6-0, 6-1 decision over Noah Martin. Nickels eventually joined in the fun and won his first set 6-0 over West’s David Phillips. He led 1-0 in the second set when the match was decided.
The performance came one day after Science Hill had seven players make it to the District 1 individual finals in either singles or doubles.
“It’s been a long week, but we’ve been preparing for this,” Lane said. “We’ve peaked at this time and got our boys ready for a lot of tennis during a short amount of time. Everything has worked out well so far.”
Science Hill now looks to make a return to the state tournament for the first time since 2010. They fell one match shy of the state tournament a year ago, losing to Bearden in a match that still serves as motivation for the Hilltoppers.
“We wanted to get back to the sectional, but we want to finish it off the right way this year,” Lane said. “We have seven seniors who have all contributed at some point this year as well as Griffen and Jacob up top. Everybody’s motivated and everybody is wanting to make it to the state. We’re close — one match away with a great chance — but we know our opponent, whether it’s Knox Catholic or Halls, is going to give a fight.”