Judy Auld embarks upon her 30th season as head coach of the Southern Illinois University women's tennis program. A stand-out coach in the long history of women's tennis at SIU, she was appointed to the post in the spring of 1975.
Upon her appointment, Auld got right to work teaching the basics of tennis to eager young athletes. Her team played just five matches that year, winning only one. Eight seasons later, SIU went 25-9 on the way to its first Gateway Conference Championship.
"I was in the right place at the right time when the position opened up. When I started I thought I'd only coach for a few years," Auld lamented. "It boggles my mind sometimes that I've been here this long, but I have fun with it. I enjoy coaching and working with the young people. It's a job for me, not my life and that has kept it in perspective for me over the years."
"You can have such a positive influence on college students. I want these kids to leave as better players, but I also want them to leave better people who are ready for the world. Some of the athletes that I had the toughest time with are the ones who stay in touch with me the most."
Under Auld's guidance, Southern Illinois has carved out a decade long record of 76-37 versus Gateway conference foes for an exciting .673 rate of success. The second-winningest coach in school history, Auld has accumulated a 30-year record of 405-332. Auld also holds the second-longest tenure among women's coaches at SIU.
"The last two years have been very testing, especially the last year Erika (Ochoa) played," Auld said. "We only had three players left at the end of the season and those kids handled it so well. They still went out trying to win matches, not for me, but for them, for the team and SIU."
"So, 400 wins isn't just a milestone for me. I look at it as a milestone for my players and especially this year's team. I have a lot of good feelings for this group of individuals and would love to get that (400th) win with these people on the team. But I don't want that to overshadow how we do at conference and how this team does individually."
Coaching highlights for Auld include Gateway Conference Championships in 1983 and `85, as well as being named the Gateway Coach-of-the-Year in 1988 after her Salukis finished second in the league. Ten years ago, she was inducted into the Saluki Sports Hall of Fame.
"When I first started, we had varsity and junior varsity, so I'd have 20 to 25 girls come out," Auld said. "We played more for the fun of it because there weren't any dollars involved. Even now when I recruit, I try to get people that still have fun with tennis. I want the players to have a positive experience."
"I'd like to see more of my players get into the Hall of Fame. I think there are some players that are very deserving of it. It's a phenomenal thing when your inducted into the Hall of Fame - an unbelievable experience. I was glad I could share it with some former players and my family. It was very important to me, but it's the experiences from those days as an athlete with your teammates that you relish."
Entering her 11th year of play in the Missouri Valley Conference, Auld is optimistic about the Salukis chances to contend for a league title. One of her youngest teams to ever raise eyebrows around the league was in 1995 when the team finished third in the MVC tourney. Last year, another youthful squad grabbed fifth place with four freshmen and no seniors.
"You've got to build consistency," Auld said. "If you look at the SIU tennis program over the last 30 years we've been a good, strong, consistent program. That's what I want to keep on doing with the program. I think the people I have on the team now are continuing that."
"Last year's team was shell-shocked at first by Division I tennis, but then they started believing in themselves. You can talk to players about confidence, but they have to believe in themselves. The only way to do that is stay positive and stand by them, even through their losses."
Off the court, Auld's student-athletes have excelled in the classroom. For the seventh consecutive year, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) selected the tennis team to the ITA All-Academic Team. Since 1993, Auld has had 19 MVC First Team scholar-athletes and 13 athletes receive MVC honorable mention.
Auld, who has six 20-win seasons, has produced 32 league champions in singles and doubles. She has also contributed 44 All-Conference honorees. Moreover, Auld has seen two Saluki stand-outs -- Sue Briggs Krismantis and Kathy Rowlett -- inducted to the school's Hall of Fame.
"Working with the players, seeing the improvement and watching them grow as individuals," Auld said, giving reasons for coming back to coach each year. "Hopefully, you are a positive influence in their lives. I still have fun with it. Sometimes you get down and the trips are harder now, but it's just the enjoyment of seeing them win those matches."
"When that girl is out there playing her heart out and loses the match, it hurts. It hurts me as much as it does them, but I just can't let it show as much. It hurts because they've played so hard, but when you win, it's such a great feeling. I like seeing them all come together on one court, and their excited, to cheer on that last deciding match for the win. That's not something everyone gets to see in their lifetime."
Auld's extraordinary accomplishments as a student-athlete while at SIU paved the way for her coaching success prior to her graduation in 1972. From 1969-72, the Decatur, Ill., native starred in four sports for the Salukis.
In tennis, she won an Illinois sectional title and was invited to the National Championships in 1970 and 1972. In basketball, she was on three state title-winning teams and was a sophomore guard on the 1970 SIU team which finished fifth at Nationals. In softball, she was a standout third-basemen for the `71 Salukis who finished fourth at the Women's College World Series. Auld also was a member and captain of the field hockey team in her senior year.
Now, over three decades later, Auld has wasted little time creating a respectable program that she and her players, past and present, can be proud to represent. She has created a legacy that will not be forgotten. Each of her players respect her as a coach and a person, but are also her friends. For that reason, they call her Judy.
"I'm a very loyal person, so if your my friend I'll stand by you through thick and thin," Auld said. "That is the way I feel about my players. I'll always be there to defend them."