Senior Matysova Set to Soar for Huskers
Katerina Matysova could be the poster-child for perseverance for the Nebraska women’s tennis program in 2017-18.
The senior from Erding, Germany has faced adversity time after time in her tennis career, and has taken on every challenge as an opportunity to improve herself. Her most recent battle has been returning to health after a blood condition put an end to an unbeaten 2017 spring singles season.
Nebraska Head Coach Scott Jacobson said Matysova’s approach to her personal challenges on and off the court serve as an example for the younger players in the Husker program.
“Kati has certainly been a rock for our program over the course of her career,” Jacobson said. “Having faced more adversity than perhaps anyone I have ever coached, she continuously approaches tennis and life with tremendous optimism. Her strong mind and glass-half-full attitude has had an incredibly positive effect on others within the program as well as on herself. We are excited for Kati’s final year as a Husker and I'm confident she will have a tremendous impact on our team and its overall performance this coming spring. It has truly been an honor to have had Kati representing our program over the course of her career, and we look forward to a phenomenal senior year.”
Last spring, following the removal of a blood clot, Matysova continued to deal with similar symptoms until she found out she had thoracic outlet syndrome, which was compressing blood vessels between her collarbone and first rib. In August, Matysova had her first rib removed to clear up space for her blood flow, and she was cleared to play just in time for the ITA Central Regional Championships in October, where she even managed to bring in two singles wins for the Huskers.
Although Matysova’s health condition ended her junior season early on the court, it did not stop her from excelling in the classroom. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in May as a two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and an eight-time Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll member. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in educational psychology, with a focus on qualitative, quantitative and psychometric methods.
The international student-athlete said she’s not sure where she’ll end up after her graduation, but she’s thankful Nebraska has given her a home where she’s been able to pursue her dreams ever since she first arrived.
“I love how friendly people are here in Nebraska, how everyone just is ready to help whenever you need it,” Matysova said. “This college in general and what we get in athletics is amazing. It’s just such a privilege to be here in general, and I appreciate it every day, to be able to do sports and school at the same time.”
Matysova’s personal and tennis journey to Nebraska had plenty of twists and turns as well.
She stepped onto the tennis court for the first time at age 6, when competing meant seeing how many balls she could hit back and forth with her mother and tennis coach, Romana Matysova. The day 11-year-old Katerina won her first regional championship in Oberbayern was the same day she realized tennis was going to be a paramount part of her life.
With her mom still coaching her on the side until today, Matysova picked up her first personal coach and she competed in her first international tournament in Slovenia at age 12. Matysova drove out to the tournament with a few girls and boys also competing in the Oberbayern region, spending the days facing fresh competition from around Europe and the nights swimming in the Gulf of Trieste with friends from back home.
At age 14, Matysova was competing in at least one European-wide tournament a month, and eventually reached a point where she was ranked No. 11 in Europe’s U16 category. At age 15, her contests expanded to include worldwide competition.
As it became difficult for the young athlete to be granted time off school and retakes on exams while she was attending various tennis tournaments, the 15-year-old Matysova transferred to a full-time tennis boarding school where she was allowed to practice and learn side by side.
However, after one year at the school, something shifted for Matysova. After a talk with her parents, she decided a future as a professional tennis player wasn’t what she had in mind, and she went back to her former high school and returned to life as a normal student.
Matysova continued to play tennis on the side while she engaged herself in the more difficult latter years of the German education system, not sure if and how tennis was going to continue to be intertwined in her life. Izabella Zgierska, Matysova’s former teammate on a club tennis team in Dachau, Germany, gave her the answer.
“I knew a girl on the [Nebraska] team, Izabella,” Matysova said. “I knew she was doing this and she kept telling me about what it is, how the team competes and that it’s fun. She would always play in her uniform in Germany, because we don’t have uniforms, so she would just bring out her Nebraska stuff. Bella mentioned me to the coaches, and [former Associate Head Coach Hayden Perez] told me all about it, but I didn’t exactly know what I was going into. Like I didn’t know much about the college system, what D1 and D2 mean, I didn’t know much. I just knew Bella was here.”
After laughing about how she accidentally told Nebraska to send a contract for her to sign before she was even offered, Matysova explained that despite not knowing any of the details or intricacies that go into U.S. college athletics, she knew that competing in the states was the right step for her.
“It’s definitely different here, because it comes to college sports a lot more, and I mean, we don’t have college sports in Europe,” Matysova said. “That’s the biggest difference probably. College was the perfect way to channel [tennis] into something bigger without having to go professional and having that risk of giving up school and everything, like college here is the perfect combination of that, of going to school and still playing tennis.”
After committing and being pulled into her new Husker family, Matysova found there was so much more that went into U.S. tennis culture that she never had the opportunity to experience before. Just as Zgierska had told her, Nebraska was a place that made tennis fun.
“Here, tennis becomes a team sport in college, while in Europe it’s very individual,” Matysova said. “And, I mean, we do have team sports but they’re still very individual. We play those eight games together and the rest of the year, everyone does their own things. I traveled with my mom to the tournaments, or sometimes you travel with your coach, but at the tournaments it’s very split. At tournaments [in Europe], you have people hanging out and they usually hang out maybe in two people or just alone, and here, I mean the whole team aspect of doing the team cheer before the matches and cheering during the matches and that whole... I mean, I didn’t really cheer for myself either before I came here, and here it’s all about showing your energy and [the team] is just such a big part.”
The Big Red also became a crucial element in Matysova’s life when she faced a torn ACL and MCL in the fall of her freshman year. Her coaches, teammates and trainers lifted her up, which allowed the 2016 Big Ten Sportsmanship Award recipient and two-time Tom Osborne Citizenship Team member to turn the lowest point in her tennis career into a future full of her greatest highs.
“My injury was at the right timing,” Matysova said. “I was kind of done with tennis when I came here, I was a little annoyed about it and just not really in a good mood about it. And when I had my injury, that just kind of gave me a goal and made me miss tennis a lot, and so I started to be way more positive and more focused on tennis and the whole journey of coming back.
“The last two years of [high school] were rough and I didn’t play much and then I didn’t compete much, so I didn’t play well. That was actually probably the biggest part, I didn’t play much during the last two years and then I came here and I still had really high expectations for myself and I couldn’t meet them, because I was just not fit enough and didn’t practice enough, and so I was just getting down on myself for no reason. And when I got injured, I put those expectations really low, and so that allowed me to come back from the bottom, which is way easier than having high expectations right away.”
As Matysova shifted her mentality from being the best to just being able to compete, the tennis star transitioned from a 3-8 record her freshman year to helping lead the team her junior year with a 32-6 record, including an undefeated spring record of 18-0 in singles and doubles play.
Now, with another physical challenge seemingly behind her, Matysova is hoping to soar into her senior season and help lead the 2018 Huskers to the NCAA Tournament.
“I thought I was going to be more upset about it, but I’m actually looking forward to it,” Matysova said. “It’s a good roundup. I regret nothing. I’ve done everything I wanted and this time’s going to be great, and it was great. So I’m just really excited for next season honestly.”