It’s almost scary to think just how much better cousins Jared and Ryan Nielsen could be on the tennis court if they didn’t spend so much time playing basketball.
Despite splitting their time with their favorite sport basketball and working on the family farm, the duo from Parma still won a third consecutive 3A state championship in boys doubles on May 19 at Vallivue High School with a straight set win over a team from Fruitland.
“I’ve had other coaches ask if they could play college tennis, and if they really wanted to spend that kind of time on it they could have,” said Ryan’s father Lary Nielsen, an assistant coach at Parma. “They have the skills.”
For their impressive run to yet another state championship, the two are the 2017-18 Idaho Press’ Sports Stars Boys Tennis Athletes of the Year.
Ryan and Jared enjoy playing tennis, but just not at the level required for them to take their games to the next level. And that’s why winning three straight state championships is even more remarkable than it might normally be.
The two are the latest in a long line of tennis players in the Nielsen family, so forgive them for the game coming somewhat naturally. Lary played high school tennis and has been an assistant coach at Parma since the two were practically in diapers, and they’ve grown up with the game.
They also both have siblings who previously won state tennis championships.
“Ever since he was a little tiny guy he wanted to play tennis,” Lary Nielsen said of Ryan. “We had a board at the house that he used to hit the ball against all the time, and whenever we would go on family vacations he would bring his racket. It’s just been in the family.
“He could volley pretty well from when he was like 6 years old, but they are more in love with basketball. They spent a lot more time playing basketball than tennis. It’s just kind of been a natural thing for both of them.”
Ryan actually started out playing singles as a freshman while Jared was partnered with Tanner Kramer, who had won state in singles but wanted a new challenge in doubles as a senior. But when Kramer decided midway through the year that he would rather go back to singles, Parma coach Jesse Eddy decided to move Ryan to doubles with his cousin Jared.
“They hit it off right away and went together really well,” Eddy said.
The two won state that spring as freshmen, and repeated the feat as sophomores in 2017. They entered 2018 with big expectations and received a needed wake-up call from a loss to the top doubles team from Middleton at the Capital Classic.
It was the only match they lost all season.
“It definitely didn’t feel good,” Jared said. “I don’t think we played our best, so it kind of hurt that we missed the opportunity on the biggest stage in Idaho. That hurt.”
The two dealt with complacency midway through the season as they continued to dominate the competition. But the loss helped them refocus and gear up for the stretch run, and they rolled to both the district and state titles in back-to-back weekends in May.
The two will now look to become the first doubles team in Parma history to win four straight state championships together next year as seniors.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Ryan said. “It’s been a dream of mine ever since we were little so it’s cool that we’ve won three and have a shot at four in a row.”
The two also devote a lot of time, especially during the summer months, to basketball. They attend basketball camps and play on summer teams. They also spend a lot of time after school and during the summer at the family farm.
Pace-Nielsen Farms is a third-generation farm run by Lary and his two brothers. They sell watermelons to Winco and other crops including corn, onions, beans and wheat to various places. Jared and Ryan are among several in the Nielsen family that help on the farm.
Asked if the two didn’t spend enough time on tennis because they were always working on the farm, Lary joked, “No, they don’t work enough on the farm.”
But despite such a hectic schedule that includes work, school and playing multiple sports, the cousins have found enough time to sneak in some work on the tennis courts. And they plan on finding even more time for that next year as they look for a four-peat.
“That would be an amazing accomplishment for both of us,” Jared said. “We’ve loved tennis our whole life and that would be great to bring home another one.
“We still have a lot to prove. We have three right now, but that fourth one is not going to come easy.”
Especially when it’s not even their best sport.