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Game of love: Mother, daughter find shared passion in tennis

For so many years, horses and competition were constants in the lives of Mary and Alivia Livesay. Mother and daughter, side by side, vying for trophies and ribbons in events up and down the East Coast.

So perhaps it was only natural that as Alivia Livesay began to find a new love in tennis, so too would her mother. And given the competitive spirit each possesses, perhaps, too, it was eventual that each would find as much success on the court as they did on horseback.

Their journeys have led them to Friday, when Alivia Livesay, now a senior at Polk County, will begin competition in the 2A Western Regional at Gardner-Webb while Mary Livesay and a team from Red Fox Country Club compete at the USTA Tri-Level Sectional Invitational in Ridgeland-Jackson, Miss.

Mother and daughter, still pursuing trophies and victories, still sharing a passion for the same choice of sport.

“It dawned on me the other night,” Mary Livesay said. “I was in the shower and I was like, oh my gosh, I have shared two sports with my daughter all these years and how rare is that? And to be very competitive in both sports.”

And they have vacation boredom to thank for their latest love.

On frequent getaways trip to Myrtle Beach when Alivia was much younger, the Livesays would often be looking for something to do besides time in the ocean. That led them to the Dunes Village Resort, where Alivia Livesay and her brother, Bailey, would spend their mornings taking tennis lessons. That sparked an interest in the sport for Alivia, who soon became part of the initial group of students at Carolina Junior Tennis, Cary Davenport’s local effort to teach the game to younger players.

It wasn’t until she reached high school, though, that Alivia began to spend more and more time on the court and less and less time in the show ring.

“I never got really serious about it until my freshmen year, when I joined the high school tennis team,” she said. “That’s when I really started wanting to play more. In my freshman year I was doing it just because I knew people on the team and just wanted to be in something my freshman year just to be part of something. But my sophomore year was when I was like, OK, this is something I really want to do, and if I want to do it I have to really stick to it. And that’s when I had to start giving up horses.”

Focusing on the sport year-round, Alivia has honed her game working with Jim Greene at Red Fox Country Club and Bobby Garrett at Hendersonville Racquet Club. The regular riding lessons have been replaced by regular tennis lessons, but it’s a switch that Alivia hasn’t minded.

“It’s where I can be myself,” she said of her on-court time. “If I don’t concentrate on my game and think about other things that are going on in school or wherever, I’ll mess up and I’m not going to win. I can be myself on the court and block everything else out.”

Spurred by Alivia’s interest in the sport, Mary Livesay decided to take it up as well and soon also began competing, though with no local outlet to do so had to drive to the Greenville area to join an adult league. A break from competition, then another league followed before the Red Fox team formed and decided to begin tournament play.

“Everyone on the team at Red Fox, we all knew each other,” Mary said. “We played a lot and played for fun and we were all pretty competitive and we were all tennis players. We weren’t all beginners, so it was very competitive between all of us. It’s been a ride.”

The Red Fox team earned the trip to Mississippi by winning the USTA North Carolina 3.0/3.5/4.0 Tri-Level State Championship in Hickory last month. Tri-Level matches feature players of three different levels of abilities playing on the same squad. Ten local players, Mary included, will start competition Friday morning against four other teams from three states in round-robin play that will last throughout the weekend.

Alivia, meanwhile, is no stranger to the 2A Western Regional tourney, having qualified as a doubles player in each of the past three seasons. But her dramatic victory at the Western Highlands Conference tournament last week meant a first-time trip as a singles player,

“I’ve never been to regionals singles-wise, but I really hope to make it to at least the second round, maybe third,” she said. “If I go on more than that, I’ll be really excited.

“I don’t really know what to expect because I’ve never gone in singles. Doubles is usually always challenging because most of the (top players) go in doubles. But, hopefully, I can at least make it to the second round.”

Alivia hopes to continue her career at the collegiate level. Local programs such as Mars Hill and Lenoir-Rhyne have shown an interest, as have some larger schools, though Alivia said she is leaning towards schools at the Division II level. Wherever she goes, undoubtedly Mary will always be ready to share a practice court or discuss a match whenever the opportunity arises.

“When we were riding horses we schooled together, we had the same coach,” Mary said. “Now with tennis, I can jump right in and hit with her when she has a two-hour lesson, in the heat, and gets tired.

“On a Saturday, it’s like, hey, let’s go hit some balls. That’s fun. That’s something that was put in her mind from her coach, who was like, you’re so lucky to have somebody in your family that you can go hit with, who is competitive enough to hit with.”

“I love it,” Alivia said of sharing the sport with her mom. “It is nice that I can go out with her. It’s fun. It does gets frustrating sometimes and we start yelling.

“But in the end, I’m glad that I can share it with her.”

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