Madeline Almeida Wanlass is a current member of the BYU women’s tennis team. While this 5-foot-9 athlete from El Dorado Hills, Calif., is well-known on the tennis court, there is more to her than meets the eye.
Madeline experienced major life changes when she was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and married in 2019. The BYU athlete said her experiences have given her a more optimistic outlook on life. Madeline has had not only the opportunity to play tennis at BYU, but also to find faith and love.
Madeline’s father, Keoni Almeida, was a tennis coach for children in low-income neighborhoods when his three children asked him to extend his coaching talents to them as well. This was the beginning of Madeline’s tennis career.
Her parents said Madeline’s performance as a youth kept her highly competitive and top-ranked in Northern California. Her mother, Libby Almeida, said Madeline had the skill set required to be successful in the sport, which also meant she could play tennis at the collegiate level.
“When girls were starting to drop from playing sports, she still kept playing,” Libby said.
The Oak Ridge High School Senior Athlete of 2016-17 was sought out for her talent on the tennis court and was one of the top 70 tennis recruits in the nation. While she considered various colleges that held impressive accolades and distinctions, Madeline said she was dismayed by the party atmosphere heavily emphasized at each location she scouted out.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do this,’” Madeline said.
Disheartened by various incompatible schools, Madeline found the perfect fit with BYU after talking with BYU women’s tennis head coach at the time, Lauren Jones-Spencer, who spoke highly of the values the university upheld, and so Madeline joined the team.
Madeline said her desires might have been considerably different than those of most young adults heading off to college for the first time, but she felt at home with her coach and her teammates and appreciated the values set by the university.
Keoni and Libby, though shocked with her choice, remained supportive of Madeline’s decisions and felt it was a natural fit for their daughter who followed the Catholic faith to attend a religious university.
Keoni said that as a little girl, Madeline could often be found with a picture Bible in hand as they went to weekend tennis tournaments. Although the family doesn’t actively participate in weekly Sunday services, Libby said Madeline appreciates the fact she can focus on her spirituality at BYU.
The Provo university seemed to coincide nicely with Madeline’s desires for college and was even inside the West Coast Conference borders — an added bonus for the athlete. In Libby’s words, the school was “far enough away, but close enough to home.”
Madeline had “sworn off boys” the day before she met New Jersey local Matt Wanlass. Though reluctant to answer her phone on the day he called, Madeline later recalled them having an effortless conversation that lasted for almost an hour and a half.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re so similar,’” Madeline said of her first conversation with Matt. “We had a lot of things in common.”
One of those things was tennis.
“’Tennis runs in our blood,’ is kind of the slogan I give our story,” Matt said.
Matt had been introduced to Madeline by Rishab Sardana, a BYU tennis player who had set his friend up before, though unsuccessfully. Hopeful that they would be able to at least connect on their mutual love for tennis, Matt called Madeline and realized they had a lot more in common than he had thought.
Not only do they enjoy playing the same sport, but the BYU couple has ties to Portugal and a similar upbringing. Madeline and Matt started dating a week and a half after their first phone call.
Madeline had glimpses of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the summer of 2017 when she attended her friends’ missionary farewells. While she enjoyed supporting them in their service endeavors, Madeline said she never felt seriously inclined to join the religion.
Her mindset changed somewhat after a missionary friend urged her to listen to weekly missionary lessons via Skype. Madeline agreed, but only under the terms that she would be taught by the missionaries after tennis season had concluded and if the lessons were taught by her peer — if nothing else, the lessons would allow her to talk with her friend more often, Madeline said.
It wasn’t until she started dating Matt that Madeline received the missionary lessons in person, forfeiting her rule to be taught after the season.
Matt said he knew Madeline held an interest in the religion from her acceptance of the missionary lessons and her faithful weekly church attendance. While he was excited at the possibility of her accepting the gospel, he said he knew everything would work out between the two of them, regardless of her religious status.
“I thought what was most important is that she heard the message and that she knew that she would have my love either way,” Matt said. “If she didn’t end up getting baptized, it didn’t change anything because I still loved her.”
Madeline said that while Matt played a key part in facilitating the missionary lessons, he created a non-pressure atmosphere that allowed Madeline to feel her testimony out for herself.
Madeline was baptized by Matt on June 8 with a plethora of friends and family at the service.
The happy ending
The happy couple was married on Nov. 22 at Wadley Farms in Lindon.
While this was something that Madeline never expected, she said she is excited for the new knowledge she has gained through joining the Church, and is especially looking forward to an eternity married to Matt.
Madeline said all of the choices she has made in 2019 have given her a more positive outlook on life and that she is grateful she can fully see the eternal perspective of things, particularly her eternal marriage.
“It’s kind of cool to have that, especially if you love someone,” Madeline said.