It has been a long road back for Arizona State men’s tennis.
In May of 2008, the Pac-12 school announced the discontinuation of the men’s tennis program due to what the administration called “economic realities experienced over a long period of time.” In other words, a budget crunch resulting from a struggling economy.
So for eight years, ASU has been one of four schools in the Power Five conference to not field a men’s tennis team.
Last May ASU announced the reinstatement of the program. And last week the final piece was put in place with the hire of a head coach to lead the revived program.
Matt Hill was hired away from the University of South Florida, where he has been the head coach for the past four years and led that program to three consecutive American Athletic Conference team championships.
The Bulls climbed to a No. 13 national ranking last season, the best in the history of the program, and Hill was recognized as the AAC Coach of the Year – for a third consecutive year. Each of those years, USF advanced to the NCAA Tournament after making just two appearances in the previous 10 years.
His AD at South Florida called him “one of the bright young standouts in collegiate coaching” and his new AD, Ray Anderson, said in announcing his hire that Hill is a “very talented and well-rounded young coach” with a record “of great success wherever he has been.”
That includes an impressive record of success on the recruiting trail; his 2013 and 2016 recruiting classes were ranked among the nation’s top 10.
Prior to his time at USF, Hill spent five years as an assistant coach at Mississippi State where he helped the Bulldogs to a No. 20 national ranking in 2011 and No. 11 in 2012, and was recognized as the SEC Assistant Coach of the Year. Prior to that, he spent two seasons working as a volunteer assistant coach at Alabama.
Hill replaces Lou Belken, who was head coach when the program was eliminated eight years ago. Belken had directed the program for 25 years.
The program itself was a tradition, the second-oldest sport on campus behind only football, which traces its roots back to 1897.
It took both commitment and money to bring it back. Fortunately for Sun Devil fans, Ray Anderson has both. He and his wife, Buffie, donated a lead gift of $1 million to help launch a fund-raising program to bring back men’s tennis. So far, $5 million of the eventual goal of $10 million has been raised.
Anderson, who was hired as the school’s Vice President for University Athletics in January of 2014, explained at the time: “In my time here, and as I have learned about the history of the community, I have come to understand how much the sport of men’s tennis means to the community. Finding a way to reinstate the men’s tennis program was a passion for Buffie and myself.”
Hopefully, Hill will bring that same passion to his job of resuscitating a program that has been in an eight-year coma.