ASU men's tennis coach Matt Hill uses battle with cancer to find his calling

Hill continues to confront challenges head on in his life and as a coach

ASU's men's tennis head coach Matt Hill grew up playing tennis, and as a teenager, he began coaching — but his life was put on pause when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. 

Hill was diagnosed young, only 19 at the time, but he fought hard and eventually beat cancer. He now uses his survival as a reminder not to sweat the small things. 

During his bout with cancer, Hill spent the majority of his time in a hospital, where he formed a new attitude with which to approach life.

“Your perspective on life, some of the cliché things that you hear (like) 'Oh, you don’t know if you are going to make it to tomorrow,' that kind of stuff, that was very real for me," Hill said. "I experienced that – it really changed my outlook."

A continual pain in his knee brought Hill to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a type of cancer that develops in the bones. Although it can occur at any age, it mainly affects children and young adults.

Hill's loved ones and players said they can see how surviving cancer has changed his perspective. 

“He has a totally different outlook than most people – he doesn’t care about small things,” Hill’s wife, Katie, said. “He’s laid back and such a free spirit because he learned through that (surviving cancer) small things don’t matter.” 

Hill knew life was short and could be taken away from him at any moment, so he was determined to live his life doing what he loved: coaching tennis.

“I got diagnosed with cancer when I was 19, and I would say that year ... when I was in the hospital so much, I really decided it (coaching) was something I wanted to do with my life,” Hill said.

Private coaching meant long hours on the court, and his body and knee couldn't handle the stress. Hill also planned on starting a family, and realized the traveling that comes with tours and private coaching was not going to be suitable for him. 

That's when Hill realized collegiate tennis, with less physical strain and travel, was a perfect match.

Hill started coaching at the collegiate level in 2005 as the head coach at University of Alabama. He then coached at Mississippi State and eventually South Florida. Under Hill’s regime, the South Florida Bulls reached the program's best-ever ranking, ranking No. 13 in the nation. 

Hill left South Florida in 2016 to help ASU form its first Division I team since its 10-year hiatus.

"Our goal as always is to get a little bit better each day and to take growth in the areas that are most important to us," Hill said. "That's kind of what we are doing right now."

Hill hopes to learn more about his athletes and help them succeed during their time at ASU.

Captain Michael Geerts credits Hill as one of the reasons he chose to come to ASU. Geers said his calm demeanor and hard work ethic drives him to become a better player.

“He’s a great fit,” Geerts said. “And it’s also something I personally need, someone with a calm vision and (who) can really guide me.” 

Hill and his team got their first win against Loyola Marymount, 4-2, on Feb. 9 during the ASU Invitational. The Sun Devils will be traveling to San Diego this week to face the University of San Diego on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 12:00 p.m. MST.


Reach the reporter at sbrisen@asu.edu or follow @sophiabriseno on Twitter.

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