Long Beach State women’s tennis head coach Jenny Hilt-Costello went through the most challenging period of her life during the 2004 season. She faced the struggle of chemotherapy fatigue and played the most trying set of her career when she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer.
Although she went through extensive surgery, the most successful coach in LBSU women’s tennis history missed only two days of practice. Her team went on to take the No. 4 seed in the Big West Tournament and became champions that season.
“That team just decided to take on responsibilities by themselves,” Hilt-Costello said. “ That was the most rewarding season. When I was down and out, the team stepped up and won themselves a Big West title.”
Hilt-Costello, 45, arrived at Long Beach as assistant coach in 1995 and only two seasons later, was promoted to head coach. She’s now in her 21st season, and has been enjoying her 14 years living cancer-free.
“There are always ups and downs,” Hilt-Costello said. “Every year is different, I would say it has been fun and it has been a privilege. I enjoy what I do, I feel lucky that I get to work on a college campus with these talented players day in and day out doing something I love.”
Hilt-Costello has taken the Long Beach tennis program into the elite. With a record of 345-147 (.701) in 20 seasons, she holds the LBSU record for most single-season wins, most career wins and the highest winning percentage at Long Beach. The eight-time Big West coach of the year and 2004 West region coach of the year has forged both a successful legacy at Long Beach as well as strong relationships with her players.
Assistant coach Anais Dallara played for Hilt-Costello from 2008 through 2012.
“Everything began from a player to coach relationship and then she became my mentor,” Dallara said. “When I graduated, she taught me to be the best coach I could be. Now she is not only my mentor, she is my friend, a very good friend.”
Hilt-Costello has always been a role model for her assistant coach. Dallara was born in France and did not speak any English at first and Hilt-Costello helped her with tutoring on a couple of occasions.
“She is trustworthy, I know I can count on her,” Dallara said. “In a motherly kind of way she has always been there for me. Coaching different cultures is not easy, but she makes it seem easy. She brings us all together and reminds us we all have the same passion. She is devoted to this team, that is why this program is successful.”
Pacholski, also from France, feels a similar connection with her coach.
“I think we think alike,” Pacholski said. “We tend to have the same opinion about stuff but sometimes a different way to approach it. All of us in the team have this connection with her depending on what we need to get better and improve. I see it as a good balance.”
Hilt-Costello follows discipline and intensity as primary guidelines to coach her team. Despite her roughness, players value her on and off of the court.
“Any problem we may have we can speak to her definitely,” said senior Lena Pacholski. “She finds a solution to it. She is here to help and that is very nice. She is a very involved coach, I have never had someone like her.”
Dallara also admires Hilt-Costello’s perseverance as a coach.
“She is tough and has so much character,” Dallara said. “She went through so much. The investment she puts on this team, this matters to her and that is the kind of philosophy she gives to this team. We don’t have excuses.”
Hilt-Costello visualizes lifting her 15th Big West title this season and another 10 years, or more, coaching at the Rhodes Tennis Center.
“I love where I live, I love this university,” Hilt-Costello said. “I think this is an incredibly talented group of girls, we are going to have a strong season and I definitely see myself doing this for a long time to come.”