The reincarnation of ASU men's tennis

The Sun Devils have returned to the tennis court after getting cut in 2008

After an eight-year hiatus, the ASU men's tennis team is beginning to flourish since its reinstatement in 2016. The help of generous donations and a determined head coach has propelled the team into a hopeful first year back.

The ASU men's tennis team was the second longest running program in ASU's history – right behind the football team, which was established in 1897. However, the team's tenure was snapped in 2008 when budget cuts eliminated not only the men's tennis program, but swimming and wrestling as well. 

“I thought it was a big void because once they lose a team, it takes a long time to come back,” said longtime ASU tennis supporter Henry Carrejo. 

With the help of a $1 million donation from Ray Anderson, vice president of University Athletics, and his wife, Buffie, ASU brought back the sport for a 2018 season.

Due to ASU's rich tennis history and Buffie’s love of the sport, Anderson felt the need to reinstate it. 

“I am so pleased that Buffie and I can personally support opportunities for our student-athletes,” Anderson said in a press release in May 2016. “In my time here, and as I have learned about the history of the program, I have come to understand how much the sport of men's tennis means to the community."

After formally announcing the program's rebirth in the spring of 2016, the next step was for ASU to find its coach.

ASU hired head coach Matt Hill in June of 2016 to lead the newly instated team in its first year back. Hill is a three-time American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year and formally head coach at University of South Florida. He is also cancer survivor. 

“I like to be challenged, I like to be stretched,” Hill said. 

Recruiting a whole team in a year was definitely going to be a challenge. Hill couldn’t offer recruits team rankings and couldn't tell them what the team was going to be like, but he liked the challenge of having to find athletes and described the team as a blank canvas.

“We couldn’t tell them who they were going to be,” Hill said. “You could paint whatever picture you want.”

Freshman and assistant captain Benjamin Hannestad said he came to play for the Sun Devils because of Hill. 

“I wanted to be with Matt, and (I thought) that he was going to be the one to take me to the top, so I chose to come here with him,” Hannestad said.

Athletes commit to schools early in their high school careers, so Hill had to travel internationally in order to perform his recruiting duties. Hill traveled around the world, making home visits to convince players to come play for ASU. 

Only two players on the team's roster are from the United States, Carsyn Smith, who is from Scottsdale, and William Kirkman, who is from Midland, Michigan. But with Hill’s determination, he pulled the ASU men's tennis team together in a year and was ready for the 2017-2018 school year. 

By mid-January of this year, the men’s tennis team competed in its first league match of the season. ASU played against Duke, the very last team the Sun Devils played in 2008 before getting cut as a sport. 

The team ultimately lost the match 2-5, and it also dropped its recent two matches against Texas A&M and TCU.

Despite the losses, Hill said the team is still moving forward. 

"We are on a good path," Hill said following the Duke match-up. "And there's a lot of things that we need to work on that showed up today that might not be showing up in training."

With the season just beginning, the team is readying for the ASU Invitational on Feb. 9, when the Sun Devils will host Cal Poly, Fresno State University and Loyola Marymount University.


Reach the reporter at sbrisen@asu.edu or follow @sophiabriseno on Twitter.

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