For the first time in 20 seasons, the Ithaca College women’s and men’s tennis teams will be under new leadership beginning in the 2020–21 season.
Head coach Bill Austin, who led the programs to over 400 match victories and 20 combined conference titles, announced his retirement May 21. Chris Hayes ’16 was named the new head coach for the programs after serving as the assistant coach for both teams since the 2017–18 season. A new assistant coach has not been named yet to fill Hayes’ previous role.
“Coach Austin has been such a mentor and friend to me,” Hayes said. “I have known him for the past decade ever since he recruited me [as a player] to [Ithaca College], and I have been working under him for the last two to three years. Whenever an announcement like this comes along, there is always a sense of shock and sadness, but he has trusted me to lead the program going forward, so I am very grateful.”
Hayes was a standout for the Bombers during his four years on South Hill. He was a four-time Empire 8 All-Conference First Team honoree for singles play and two-time honoree for doubles play. He is one of 10 Bombers to win over 100 matches. Hayes also served two years as captain. He said he continues to cherish the memories he made with the Bombers.
“My four-year experience playing for Coach Austin and representing Ithaca was the best decision I ever made,” Hayes said. “The big thing I value is the family atmosphere the program has that still exists today. My best friends are the guys I went to school with.”
Hayes attended graduate school at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, in 2016–17, where he was a graduate assistant coach for the Bears under his uncle Eric Hayes, head men’s and women’s tennis coach. Chris said this experience helped him learn how to run a college program.
“I got great experience coaching with a Division I program, and we had a really special team,” Hayes said. “My uncle taught me a lot about how to run a program and to really immerse yourself and create your vision into your program.”
When Hayes returned to South Hill in the fall of 2017, he did not see himself being the next in line to be the head coach. However, he said he feels that his previous experience will make the transition easier.
“I didn’t envision coming into the program to eventually become the head coach because I have a day–to–day mindset,” Hayes said. “That being said, the only thing I really looked into the future for was recruiting. That really helped me shape my vision for the future of the program.”
One of Hayes’ recruits was rising sophomore Sarah Sposito, who sported a 3–3 singles record and a 5–5 doubles record in her first year with the South Hill squad. Sposito said she is extremely happy that Hayes was chosen to lead the program.
“My first reaction was that he is the only person that was right for the job,” Sposito said. “He is so dedicated to us and shows so much love for the sport and also so much love for us. He is so passionate about it, and I personally don’t know if I would be comfortable with anyone else but him to replace Coach Austin. I’m really excited to see what he is going to do with us in the next few years.”
Austin is the third coach to leave Ithaca College since March, when men’s soccer coach Kyle Dezotell took the head coach position at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Men’s basketball coach Jim Mullins also announced his retirement in April. All three of these positions have been filled by current assistants, with Sean Burton ’09 taking over the basketball program and Garret Eldridge, former men’s soccer assistant coach, taking over the soccer program. Hayes said that while the new hires have large shoes to fill, this trend will be a new change for the Office of Intercollegiate Athletics.
“I think hiring alumni and young coaches is going to bring a lot of energy to the athletic department,” Hayes said.
Rising sophomore Tyler Purdy, who appeared in four matches in his first season before the spring season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, said that while the team will miss Coach Austin, the team is excited to get to work under Hayes.
“I think Coach Hayes will fit right in to what we are doing,” Purdy said. “We appreciate everything [Coach Austin has] done for each of us individually and also as a whole for our program. I’m excited for next season, and I think Coach Hayes will give us that extra push to succeed at a higher level.”
Hayes said that his main focus now is preparing practices that bring matchlike intensity for when the team can resume play in the fall.
“I would love to see the alumni getting more involved with the program,” Hayes said. “In terms of on-the-court stuff, I am really looking forward to getting back to work. One thing that we do really well as a team is competing in the court, and that is what I am trying to replicate in practice. I am excited to bring the energy, bring the heat, and whatever happens on the court will happen. I cannot wait to get back to work.”