By Matt Hill

After years of domination by Elizabethton and Unicoi County, this looked like the year that the JCHS Boys Tennis Team was going to be the odds-on-favorite to win the Three Rivers Conference tennis title.
Then, a twist to the story happened and the Longhorns now once again find themselves under the radar as the season begins.
Two foreign exchange students that have landed at Unicoi County who are top-notch players to go along with last year’s District and Regional champion Reed Jackson have once again made Unicoi the team to beat.
“This makes it more difficult,” JCHS tennis coach Steve Nave said. “I believe we would have been favored to win it. We can’t control what other people do. We just have to try harder to beat them.”
All controversy aside, the Longhorns have probably one of their best teams in the last 10 years.
It all begins with brothers Wade and Carlton Tugman, who reached the District 1-A/AA final in doubles last year.
Wade is nursing a hamstring injury suffered in basketball, but seems to be ready to go.
“Wade works so hard,” Nave said. “I don’t expect the injury to affect him much. Tennis is not as physically demanding as basketball.
As for Carlton, Nave expects the sophomore to break out this year.
“Carlton could end up being the best I’ve had,” Nave said. “He works with (ASU Tennis Coach Bob Lake). He works very hard.”
The key to the team’s success may be the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, Steven Joiner and Jackson Johnson.
Both are seniors who have been solid for the Longhorns for four years and look for them to raise their game even more in their final year at JCHS.
“Stephen and Jackson are getting a lot better and will be key for us,” Nave said.
Two promising freshmen round out the top six as Ryan Whitener and Timmy Bellamy are expected to win some matches.
“Ryan works hard and is a good kid,” Nave said.
“Timmy is a good athlete and it’s great to have an athlete of his caliber.”
The girls team is rebuilding as only three returning players are back.
“The girls are inexperienced, but they’re learning,” Nave said. “We have players who will get better as they go along.”
Nikki McElyea is the likely No. 1 with Holly Bryan and Lindsey Wilson fighting for the No. 2 spot.
A couple of promising newcomers who have come over from the JCHS softball team are Aubrey Tribble and Savannah Eldreth.
“They’ve come a long way,” Nave said. “I’m pretty encouraged.”
Two other newcomers, Matney Plyler and Elizabeth Adams, have caught Nave’s attention early on.
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