Humans of Hillsdale is an ongoing series spotlighting Hillsdale College student-athletes, spotlighting the people behind the uniforms.
Latest in the series is Charger women's tennis player Kamryn Matthews
WORDS/PHOTO: Brad Monastiere
Kamryn Matthews — A Born Leader
Class of 2020 | Women's Tennis | Midland, Michigan
A common sports question to ponder is, how can the accomplishments of the individual help a team achieve success? Especially when the line over whether a sport is a team or individual one gets as blurred as tennis often can.
It isn't that complicated for Kamryn Matthews. She simply is who she is, and just on that fact alone, success finds her and everyone around her.
A junior from Midland, Michigan, Matthews has been a winner on and off the court throughout her life. In the 2017-18 athletic year, she helped lead the Charger women's tennis team to a Great Midwest Athletic Conference championship while setting a school record for most total victories in a season with 30. She won both her singles and doubles matches in the team's NCAA regional tournament appearance versus Missouri-St. Louis.
This year, she's off to another blazing start, putting up an overall record of 15-4 through April 9.
However, this success doesn't come easily, or within a vacuum.
Living with just her mom and two younger sisters for many years, Matthews had to grow up quickly early in life. She learned how important it was to set an example for her younger sisters, Tatum and Mallory, to let them know she was there for them and supported them in all things.
Just like what Kamryn did for all of her tennis teams.
"It's all about being there for them, letting them know that you trust them to win and that you believe in them," Matthews said, a quote that can directly apply to both her role as a tennis teammate and an older sister. "I really enjoy the people side of life. How can I help other people? We're all human, we all need help sometimes. How can I help make them a better player, student or person? Growing up with two little sisters, that's how I've spent my whole life. How can I show them how to live based on my experiences?"
Those experiences, in athletics, centered around basketball for much of Kamryn's early life. Her father was a basketball coach in the state of Indiana, then at Saginaw Valley State through the mid-2000s. So she became used to being around a team atmosphere, the travel schedule and the constant presence around athletics.
"I grew up in the gym," Kamryn recalled. "We would live in the dorms and my mom would sometimes dress us up as cheerleaders. I played every sport I could, but even at a young age, I knew I liked tennis more than anything else I did."
In the summer before her 7th grade year, Kamryn and her mom and sisters moved 30 miles northwest from Saginaw to Midland, where her tennis journey began in earnest. She competed in a wide array of individual tournaments, where she was able to hone her mental strength against constant and stiff competition.
"I liked tennis because it was an individual sport," Kamryn said. "You're not allowed to have coaching at those tournaments, so it is completely up to you to adjust your game, figure out your opponent and so what you need to do to win. What is my strategy? How should I adapt? How is my opponent adjusting to me? I really liked figuring that part out at that age."
Kamryn ended up enrolling at Midland Dow High School, joining a girls tennis program with a long tradition of winning at the highest level. She was focused on continuing that winning tradition, and while she found that success - winning a Division I state championship as a junior in 2015 - her team ended up as state runner ups, a defeat that lingers with her to this day.
"It was a situation where I won, played well, but my team lost. It was hard to take that," she recalled. "I was the only one on my team to win in state finals my junior year. The other four lost and all I could think about was them, and what else I could have done to help them. It was a hard spot for me to be in."
But Kamryn's high school story had a happy ending. She won another individual state championship, and helped to lead the Chargers - yes, that was her high school's team nickname also - to a 2016 state title.
Success at that level also became another way Kamryn could set an example for her younger sisters. Kamryn was Dow's girls tennis captain in 2016, a role Tatum - now a player at Trine University - filled after Kamryn's graduation in 2016. The youngest of the three, Mallory, is in the exact same spot Kamryn was in several years ago, continuing that Matthews winning tradition.
"I go back and coach my old high school team once the college year is over," Kamryn said. "It's been so cool getting to coach my sisters. A different relationship to have. It's really just all about being there for them, not telling them how to hit the ball, or where. It's more mental than physical."
That example Kamryn has set on the court has translated off the court throughout her Hillsdale career. She has established herself as a well-known and well-liked personality within the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. She is a talented and frequent contributor to Hillsdale's athletic department publicity office, working a wide variety of home events throughout the year, and even made the trip to Pennsylvania with her doubles partner Madeline Bissett to the Chargers' football playoff win in Pennsylvania in November. She also teaches spin classes, having received her spin instructor certification during her sophomore year at the college.
One of the most determined and successful athletes of her era at Hillsdale, Kamryn Matthews embodies the spirit of Charger athletics in many ways. A effervescent presence, Kamryn excels in the classroom, has been respected and recognized as a leader among her peers, and deeply cares for those close to her. It's that kind of selflessness that makes Kamryn a credit to everyone who knows her.
"We all need other people's help," she said. "In sports, or in life, at the end of the day, you just need to be there for other people."