Missouri Valley / Missouri

Nick Mathis, Madi Smith Find Love in Tennis

Josh Sellmeyer | March 17, 2023

Nick Mathis and Madi Smith attended Lee’s Summit North High School together and became friends while taking Chinese class at the Kansas City-area school. Smith — who began playing tennis her freshman year of high school — and a couple of her friends convinced Mathis to give the sport a try.


Mathis became enamored with tennis as well as the player on the opposite side of the net. Mathis and Smith began dating their senior year at Lee’s Summit North and spent three years dating long-distance while they attended different colleges. This past summer Mathis proposed to Smith on the high school tennis courts their relationship was forged, and the engaged couple is planning on a 2025 wedding.


“We became friends having classes together in high school, but it was tennis that got us stronger,” Mathis said.

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“Tennis is how we bonded,” Smith added. “We spent a lot of hours outside of school playing tennis together. The next day after the proposal we actually played in an alumni tournament at our high school run by our old tennis coach. We got some pictures on the court. Our high school tennis coach was literally crying because he was so excited.”


The duo transferred to Missouri State University and both currently compete on MSU’s Tennis Club, with Mathis working as the organization’s president. Mathis is a senior studying exercise and movement science, while Smith is a senior majoring in nutrition and dietetics. Mathis has worked at Cooper Tennis Complex since August, and Smith coaches tennis at Greenwood Laboratory School in Springfield.


“Tennis is just fun,” Smith said. “You don’t have to be good to do it. As long as you can hit the ball over the net, it’s a good time. It’s addictive. Just the rush you get when you get a ball in or you hit a really, really good ball. Especially when it’s on Nick, because he always seems to get my balls back. It feels really good.”


Smith’s father used to play tennis and nearly went pro, which motivated her to pick up the sport nine years ago. After a four-year high school career, Smith played two years of tennis at Concordia University, Nebraska, an NAIA institution. Upon graduation from Missouri State, Smith is considering getting a master’s degree and becoming a registered dietician. She’d like to do clinical work in a hospital setting, offering nutrition advice to admitted patients.

After he said he “got super addicted to tennis” in high school, Mathis competed in the sport for two years at Iowa Central Community College before progressing to MSU. A friend offered him a tennis teaching job during the summer at Genesis Health Clubs in Overland Park three years ago. Mathis has been coaching tennis ever since.


“I remember telling Madi, ‘The last thing in the world I would ever want to do is coach tennis,’” Mathis said. “I was super into playing. I didn’t care too much about the teaching aspect. I absolutely fell in love with coaching and with the little kids. Being a better coach can also in turn make you a better player. I’m actively looking for ways to simplify the process of teaching someone how to hit a forehand or backhand.


“When I came to Cooper I just fell in love with the people, with the coaches there. Cooper is much more of a community-building, and Genesis was much more like a business. I walk into Cooper, and I know everybody. Everybody knows me. I’m just having a blast. I’m pretty sure I want to do this for a long time.”


In addition to continuing to coach tennis after graduating, Mathis hopes to one day become the manager of a tennis facility. The MSU Tennis Club he presides over competed in the USTA Missouri Valley Tennis On Campus Section Championship at Cooper in early March. Mathis has participated in World TeamTennis leagues and a USTA adult tournament.


Smith was invited by USTA Missouri Executive Director Leslie Echols to join her USTA 3.5 women’s team this summer, which Smith intends on doing. Smith and Mathis teamed up to play in an all-new USTA Missouri district “Date Night” series tournament. The tandem had a blast playing and captured the combo 8.0 mixed doubles title.


“A couple of days before the tournament, Nick was really trying to get me to hit a lot more,” Smith said. “Because I hadn’t played tennis in like a month. I never ended up doing so. He went into it more of like, ‘OK, she hasn’t played in a hot minute. This is going to be like really goofy and not good.’”


Mathis jumped in: “She ended up playing actually really well. It was kind of annoying how well she played.”


Then Smith again: “That ended up being pretty funny. But I think it was better because we both went into it just trying to have a fun time rather than trying to win and being competitive about it. Our schedules are kind of opposite so it was nice to take a second to ourselves, do something we really like and hang out. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it.”



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