Lee Nickell enters his ninth season as the head coach of the University at Buffalo men's tennis team in 2017-18, after guiding the Bulls to their first two Mid-American Conference championship titles in program history, capped off by an undefeated MAC season in 2016-17 and an NCAA Tournament berth. He has been named the MAC Coach of the Year in three of his first eight seasons.
Over the last eight years, Nickell has totally transformed the culture of the men’s tennis program at Buffalo, as the Bulls have consistently been one of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference and across the Northeast.
In 2016-17, Nickell led the Bulls to a perfect 7-0 record in conference play and a 14-6 mark overall. Buffalo was the first MAC program to go 7-0 in league play since 1999. The Bulls used an epic comeback in the MAC finals to defeat Western Michigan, 4-3, earning the second tournament title in school history and the Bulls won the regular season for the third time under Nickell's tenure. The Bulls traveled to Texas A&M for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, giving the Aggies quite the battle. Following the season, Nickell was named the MAC Coach of the Year and the ITA Northeast Regional Coach of the Year.
He coached freshman Hao Sheng Koay onto the All-MAC First Team and three more players onto the All-MAC Second Team. Ethan Nittolo was named the MAC Tournament MVP, while Petr Vodak was named to the All-Tournament. One of the strongest academic teams at Buffalo as well, Tony Miller was named to the Academic All-MAC team.
It was the second time in three seasons that Buffalo had made an NCAA Tournament as Nickell's Bulls finished the 2014-15 season ranked 10th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Northeast Region Poll after playing one of their toughest non-conference schedules. The Bulls won the title despite entering as the fourth seed and knocking off top-ranked Northern Illinois in the semifinals before a victory over Binghamton in the league finals. Nickell was named MAC Coach of the Year for the second time after leading the Bulls to their fourth conference championship match appearance in six years, and advancing UB to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Pablo Alvarez was named the Most Outstanding Player of the MAC Tournament, while he and Damien David tallied All-MAC recognition.
In his first season with the Bulls in 2009-10, Nickell led the team to an undefeated league record, a top seed in the MAC Championship Tournament, a spot in the MAC Championship match and national and regional rankings for his players. For all those efforts, Nickell was named MAC Coach of the Year. The Bulls also made MAC Championship appearances in 2012 and 2014.
Nickell was named head coach of Buffalo in June 2009 following a national search. Prior to his arrival in UB, Nickell was an assistant coach at Fresno State for one season and spent four seasons as an assistant coach at Alabama, helping guide the Crimson Tide to a top-12 national ranking.
During the 2008-09 campaign, Nickell coached at Fresno State, helping the Bulldogs to a final ranking of 44th in the nation and a 17-9 overall dual match record, while working alongside head coach Jay Udwadia, a Buffalo native. The Bulldogs narrowly missed an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, while Nickell coached Rudolf Siwy, who made it to the singles draw of the NCAA championships. Siwy finished the season as the 54th-ranked singles player in the nation and joined with Mirko Zapletal to finish 41st in the nation in doubles play. Nickell helped four Bulldog netters earn All-Western Athletic Conference honors in 2009.
Prior to his stint at Fresno State, Nickell was an assistant coach at the University of Alabama, where in three seasons he helped move the Crimson Tide from 74th in the nation to the top 12. Alabama went 55-31 during the four seasons that Nickell was an assistant coach. The Crimson Tide made the NCAA tournament in all three years, including an appearance in the Sweet 16 in 2006. He also helped coach three individual players to the NCAA championships including one doubles pair that went two years in a row.
Before beginning his college coaching career in 2005, Nickell worked for four years at several clubs and tennis centers in the southeast. In 2001, he was the Head Tennis Pro/Director of Junior Development at North Carolina's Hendersonville Racquet Club. In 2003, Nickell was named Fitness Director at the Tops'l Beach and Racquet Club in Destin, Florida before being named Tennis Professional at the Cherokee Tennis Center in Woodstock, Georgia in 2004.
Nickell graduated in 2001 from Furman University with a Bachelor's Degree in Exercise Science. At Furman he played number one singles from 1998-2002. He was a three-year captain and was named to the All-Southern Conference Team twice in singles and once in doubles. Furman made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2001. At Furman, Nickell played for legendary men's tennis coach Paul Scarpa, the all-time winningest coach in Division I men's tennis history.
On the national level, Nickell previously served as the Northeast Region committee chair for the ITA.