by Michael Smith
The 2021 Grain Valley girls soccer season was the end of an era.
In a season where the Eagles finished 22-3-1 and made the Class 3 state championship game for the first time in program history, Tyler Nichol is not only stepping down as head coach of the girls, he is stepping away from being a teacher at Grain Valley High School.
Nichol said he found a job in another field outside of education, an opportunity that he said he couldn’t pass up. After seven years as head coach of the boys and girls programs, he is giving way to assistant coach Brett Lewis, who was the head coach of the boys for the 2020 season and will be leading the girls for the first time next spring.
Leaving coaching also will give Nichol more time to spend with his wife Amanda, his four-year-old son Jackson and his 2-year-old daughter Elanor. He let players of the girls team know about his decision during the second week of the 2021 spring season.
“It was a family decision. I found a good opportunity outside of education,” Nichol said. “I love coaching, but it doesn’t really work out with my current role right now. Who knows what the future holds with that. Maybe I will return to coaching as my kids get a little bit older.”
Nichol helped both Eagles programs become powerhouses in Missouri and finished with a combined record of 202-77-6 between both programs. Not only did Nichol lead the girls to their best season ever this spring, he helped guide the boys to final four berths in 2015 and 2016, finishing third and fourth, respectively.
Stepping away wasn’t an easy decision for Nichol by any means. He admits that he will miss it.
“The relationships with the parents and players is the biggest piece, I will miss that,” Nichol said. “I am in contact with a lot of former players. I received a lot of letters from former players after I told people I was stepping down. You really get to know everyone after coaching them for four years.”
Throughout his seven years as coach, Nichol had so many memorable moments, it was hard for him to choose a favorite.
“All three final fours were pretty special,” Nichol said. “There were a lot of good memories there that the kids will remember for the rest of their lives. For me, it was the daily grind in practice every day where you get to know the kids the best.”
Now that he’s stepping away from coaching, the most logical step for activities director Brandon Hart was to hand the keys of the girls team to Lewis, who is a longtime friend and former teammate of Nichol.
If there was anyone Nichol could have picked to succeed him, Lewis would have been it. The duo grew up in the same neighborhood, played on the same soccer teams, attended the same schools and spent four years playing with each other under longtime Blue Springs head coach Mike Palermo.
Nichol wanted Lewis on his staff for a long time and finally got his wish in 2019 when Lewis joined him as an assistant on both teams. After a year as the head coach of the boys, Lewis will run his own girls program for the first time.
Before coming to Grain Valley, Lewis was an assistant coach at Blue Springs, Oak Grove and Oak Park. He’s looking forward to the opportunity.
“Coming to Grain Valley as an assistant with Coach Nichol was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse and now I am excited to be the head coach of both programs,” said Lewis, who led the boys to a 9-12 record and a district title. “I am glad that I am here and that I got to know all the girls. It will be a smooth transition.”
Next spring, Lewis will retain a good amount of his starters but will lose a handful of seniors including Class 3 co-offensive player of the year Reana Childers and all-state defender Sophie Broockerd.
“I think we started five freshmen in that state final game,” Lewis said. “We have a good young core that we can build around. It’s an exciting time. We are hoping to build on the legacy that Coach Nichol helped create.”
Lewis said there won’t be many changes to the girls program as he and Nichol had similar coaching philosophies and similar systems they like to run. Following the best season in program history, Lewis hopes to have similar success in 2022.
“Making it back to state is a great goal to have,” Lewis said. “Anything can happen after making the final four. We thought making the state final four might be a lofty goal coming into this last season and we made it. So I think getting to that game was a valuable experience for the girls. There are so many good, young girls on this team. We could have a lot of success next season, too.”