Don Ball Retires after 25 Seasons at NM State
Courtesy: New Mexico State Athletics
LAS CRUCES, N.M.-After 25 years at the helm of the New Mexico State men’s and women’s tennis programs, head coach Don Ball is retiring. As a staple of Aggie Athletics, Ball is the longest tenured coach in school history.
“NM State has afforded me a great opportunity, and hopefully, I have given them back as much or more,” Ball said. “I think I have left the program a lot different, than when I got here with basically 10 pretty good courts. Now we have the finest facility in the WAC, and one of the finest in the country, and I would like to think I was a part of that, not all of that, but a good part of that.”
Ball has coached over 1,100 dual matches in his illustrious career and has won 562 combined matches from his men’s and women’s teams. He came to New Mexico State in the fall of 1985 after serving as the head tennis professional at the El Paso Tennis Club in El Paso, Texas. Since taking over the Aggie tennis programs, his men’s squads have gone 274-280 (.495), while the women’s program has a 288-289 (.499) record under Ball’s guidance.
“I have two really, really good assistants that will jump in and take my place and I don’t think we’ll miss a beat,” Ball said. “They might even be better than in the past and that’s exciting. I want to see this (program) succeed, and I want to be a fan. I only see bigger and better things for the tennis program at NM State. I’m glad I was a part of it.”
On May 12, 2009, Ball was named the 2009 Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Mountain Region Coach of the Year for guiding the men’s team into the national rankings for the first time since 2004. That was his fourth coach of the year honor, joining his selections as the 1999 Big West Coach of the Year (men), the 1999 Southern USPTA Coach of the Year (men) and the 1988 High Country Athletic Conference Coach of the Year (women).
“NM State Athletics is losing a long-term class coach who has consistently had competitive teams and outstanding academic success as well,” Athletics Director Dr. McKinley Boston said. “I have really enjoyed working with coach Ball over the past five years and he will be missed.
“Don has become an icon of sorts and just brings so much positive energy to the work place, and I’m so very happy that he got to see the new tennis facility built and then to showcased it conference wide by hosting a successful WAC Tournament,” Boston said. “He leaves a great legacy of loyalty, commitment to excellence and diversity as he moves on to the next chapter in his life.”
In 2010, the Aggie men were ranked for a school-record 11 weeks in the ITA national rankings, and they reached as high as No. 51. NM State advanced to the WAC Championship quarterfinals for fourth time in five seasons and concluded the season with an 11-8 record. The Aggies defeated three ranked teams including No. 42 Hawai’i, No. 57 New Mexico and No. 58 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Jim Brouleau earned second team All-WAC honors in singles action in 2010. His all-conference accolade marked the 20th time under Ball that a men’s player has received all-league recognition. Brouleau and Orlando Superlano also garnered All-WAC accolades in doubles, and Ball has had 11 doubles pairings on the men’s side garner all-conference accolades. The Aggies were also successful in the classroom in 2010. Gustave Diep earned first team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America District VI honors for the third consecutive year. He is the first player in program history to achieve the feat.
Also in 2010, the Aggie women recorded their 19th-straight season with at least 10 victories. NM State finished the year with an 11-14 record that included a victory over Fresno State for the first time since joining the WAC. Sophia Marks was a second team All-WAC selection in singles, which was the 21st all-conference selection on the women’s side under Ball’s guidance. Marks along with Manon Sylvain were named second team All-WAC in doubles. They are the ninth women’s doubles teams that have received all-conference honors during Ball’s tenure.
“The highlight of the past 25 years is seeing the maturity of the players and hopefully, I have given them some life lessons as well as tennis lessons and that is the most rewarding part of it all,” Ball said.
Along with the accolades for the high performance under Ball, his student-athletes have received more recognition for their work in the classroom. Ball has had four academic All-Americans. Diep earned ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America Men’s At-Large first team honors in 2010 after he was a second team selection in 2009. Additionally, Sandra Mayr was the last female academic All-American, and she was a third team selection in 2004. Simone Bock was named first team academic All-America in 1997 and 1998, and Judy Kirk was a first team selection in 1989 and a second team selection the two years prior to that.
Ball’s 2008 women’s team had eight student-athletes named scholar athletes, which was the most from one team in the country. His women’s teams were selected to the ITA All-Academic Team list from 2002-06 and 2008-09. He has had 14 ITA women scholar athletes, many of whom have received the honor several times. On the men’s side, his squads earned ITA All-Academic Team recognition in 2005-06 and in 2008-09, and he has had nine scholar athletes.
In the five seasons that NM State has been a part of the Western Athletic Conference, Ball has had 14 women named to the academic all-conference list and 11 men.
Ball has received recognition for his community service efforts over the years. In November 2007, he was given the ITA Southwest Section USTA/ITA Community Service Award.
One of his greatest career accomplishments has been the development of the NM State Tennis Center, which opened in the spring of 2006. The 12-court complex is one of the premier outdoor facilities in all of college tennis and it is attributed to Ball, who was fundamental in overseeing the development, construction, maintenance and growth of the tennis center, where he serves as the director.
Before his coaching days began, Ball was an outstanding collegiate tennis player. He began his collegiate career at New Mexico in 1967, where he posted a 28-3 singles record in two years. After the 1968-69 season he transferred to Idaho State, where he played his final season. A team captain as a senior in 1971, Ball played at the No. 1 singles position and his team named him the most valuable player. He was the runner-up in No. 1 singles at the Big Sky Conference Championships.
After graduating from Idaho State, Ball entered the United States Army where he was a member of the U.S. Army Tennis Clinic Team. In 1974, he was the U.S. Army TRADOC singles and doubles champion. Following his discharge from the Army, Ball moved to New Jersey where he became the promoter and director of the $25,000 Allaire Open in 1978, a tournament on the American Express Professional Circuit.
In 1980, Ball became the head instructor at the El Paso Tennis Club. There he coached five nationally ranked junior players, three sectional champions, one national champion and more than 50 sectionally ranked juniors.
Ball’s family has always been heavily involved with the sport of tennis and for all of their family work, the United States Tennis Association named them the USTA National Family of the Year in the spring of 1991. The award was in honor of Don, his father, Russell Ball, as well as the rest of the Ball family for their efforts in the sport over the years. Ball and his wife, Denise, have two grown children, Donny and Darcy.