Many high school student-athletes will look for familiarity when taking visits to prospective college campuses, but North Johnston’s Jett Hales didn’t have to look far.
Hales recently signed to play tennis for Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, a place he had been many times. It’s where his older brother, Greg Castle, played football from 2015 to 2019. Jett and his parents, Mary and Dennis Hales of Kenly, would make the drive straight up I-95 to Ashland on many Saturday mornings.
“It played a big role,” Hales said of the familiarity in making his decision. “I mean, I grew up going to football games at the college. I grew up getting familiar with the place and when it finally came to make a decision on where to go, Randolph-Macon already felt like home pretty much I was there so often.”
Hales, who signed with the NCAA Division III Old Dominion Athletic Conference program on May 25, just before graduation from North Johnston, said he plans to major in accounting and minor in economics.
“It’s an easy drive up 95, but the area it’s in is really nice,” he said. “It’s in a small town and so, because it’s a small private school, it’s such a tight-knit community. I mean, it has a student population of just over 1,500.”
Hales said the town of Ashland, located just north of Richmond, is also a draw.
“There’s so many little mom-and-pop spots where it’s just like it’s a small-town kind of area,” he said. “Everyone in the community is pretty tight-knit too with all the local local stores and local shops. And there’s so many good restaurants down there that are family owned.”
Hales didn’t play tennis until his junior year, but his drive to improve was unparalleled, said Panthers head coach David Anderson.
“First of all, he’s the one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever had, tennis-wise anyway,” Anderson said. “Hardest working kid. I mean, I almost had to tell him, ‘Hey you know, I’ve got a wife and kids at home. We’ve got to leave the tennis courts.’ He’d want to stay and keep hitting, keep hitting, keep hitting.
“He started late as a junior so he was a little inconsistent, but I really think his mechanics are perfect, his stroke is perfect, everything. I really think once he gets to college and has a college coach working with him every day, he’s going to excel.”
Hales went 10-2 in singles, playing Nos. 2-5, while going 10-1 in doubles this past spring, helping the Panthers go unbeaten in the regular season and win the 2-A Neuse 6 Conference title. Now he’s ready to try a higher level.
“My serve is really good,” said Hales. “I’m confident about my serve but I mean, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get up to par with all the college players. It’s a whole different ballgame. So it’s going to take a lot of work.”
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