By David Cohen
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Siblings more often than not will have the same interests. Tennis and the color purple seemed to be the interest of the Nichols children.
TCU women's tennis star and second team Academic All-Big 12 honoree Millie Nichols is the third child of Mark and Janice to play the sport at TCU. Her brother Zach (2007-2011) and sister Kewa (2004-2008) were also Horned Frogs, but did one thing that the five-star recruit Millie did not do: sign with TCU out of high school.
"[Tennessee] was something different," Millie, a junior who has now played one year each in the SEC, Mountain West and Big 12, said. "I had heard great things about the coaches and the program. I wanted to get another experience out of state and be on my own in a way."
Nichols did quite well as a true freshman in the SEC, going 27-13 in overall competition in singles and 12-6 during the dual season in doubles. She also ranked in the ITA top-30 with two different doubles partners, showing off her versatility. Her achievements in Knoxville also came while Zach was an all-Mountain West senior for the Horned Frogs.
The success was great, but Nichols ultimately decided she would transfer to the school she had never been at but was always a part of.
"I kind of felt like I was destined to go to TCU because I had two siblings there and I had known the coach since I was 12, so I had known him for quite a while," she said. "It was something I looked forward to."
Nichols’ decision to follow Zach and Kewa paid dividends quickly, as she was named to the All-Mountain West doubles team last year. Her and Olivia Smith qualified for the NCAA doubles championships, the seventh time in the last eight years a TCU duo made it that far. The two also combined to beat No. 14 Alabama.
The past two years, however, have been tough on Nichols.
“Last year at the beginning I had a cracked rib that didn't heal properly and last semester I had a pretty bad fall that knocked some things out of place,” she said. “The ankle was very frustrating. One of my main goals is to stay injury-free and healthy as much as I can, but there was nothing I could do about it.”
Head coach Dave Borelli is certainly one believer in Nichols’ recovery process.
“She is a great kid and had a little bad luck with injuries that have hurt her every year,” he said. “She works hard and if we can get her healthy she could have a great senior year.”
Fortunately for Nichols, she was active when the Horned Frogs took on Wichita State March 9 in Fort Worth. Kewa is in her third year as an assistant coach there.
“At first, when they told me we were playing each other I was thinking "oh cool but I don't want to play against any family members,” Millie said. “When it came down to it I decided I wanted to. It was kind of bittersweet, and I told my sister she better not coach her players against me.
Millie avoided any barriers Kewa may have set up, as she won 6-0 and 6-2 in her two singles rounds to lead the Horned Frogs to a 6-0 win.
“It was definitely bittersweet and will be a memory we will always talk about,” she said.
Nichols admits her family connection to Borelli has led to a unique rapport between the two.
“Our relationship is definitely a little bit more personal since we know so much more about each other,” Nichols said. “I might do something that my siblings used to do and he will pick it out. It's just cool to see how much like my siblings I am.”
Nichols, who cites belief in herself and the ability to have fun on the court as reasons for her own success, believes TCU has the intangibles to make a splash in the NCAA Championships. The Horned Frogs will be the No. 2 seed on Texas A&M’s campus and will open against North Texas when play begins May 11.
“The first thing is having a good team environment,” Nichols said. “When it comes down to it, it’s about the relationships we have with each other and we will do everything we can just to win for one another.”
Nichols, who says winning the Mountain West regular season and conference tournament title last season was one of her most memorable tennis moments, is as superstitious as many of the other stars in her sport.
“When I warm up I have to be next to the same people on the same side with the same practice routine. Warm-ups have to be the exact same thing.”
College life will have to end at some point, and Nichols has some post-graduation plans for both tennis and employment.
“I think I’ll be traveling and playing or helping with my mom's business,” she said. “She's a supplies instructor and she started her own business and is starting to modernize, so I might help her out with that.”