Polk County senior Alivia Livesay hugs head coach Richard Davis at the conclusion of her conference championship win on Wednesday (photo courtesy Mary Livesay).

Battling cramps, playing through tears, darkness falling upon the Polk County tennis courts – it seemed at times Wednesday that the day wasn’t meant to end well for Alivia Livesay.

Seemed that way, that is, to perhaps everyone except Livesay.

Fighting through leg cramps that at times left her largely playing on one leg, Livesay outlasted Owen’s Katie Craig in a tiebreaker to win the Western Highlands Conference individual tournament championship.

Livesay, a three-time WHC doubles winner, earned her first singles title with a 10-10 (10-8) win over Craig. The match, the third of the day for both players, lasted almost two hours, and when it finally ended with Craig returning a shot wide, Livesay could shed tears of joy to match the tears of pain she wore throughout the match’s final minutes.

“It’s awesome,” Livesay said. “I felt like I should have won it a while ago.”

Alivia Livesay returns a shot during Wednesday's play.
Alivia Livesay returns a shot during Wednesday’s play (photo courtesy Mary Livesay).

Facing an opponent with whom she split two regular-season matches, her only WHC loss of the season, Livesay took command of the match midway through. Leading 5-4, Livesay broke Craig, then held serve to take a 7-4 advantage. She then broke Craig’s serve once more for an 8-4 lead, and won a love game on her serve to build a 9-4 advantage.

Staring at defeat, Craig began concentrating on just keeping the ball in play, occasionally going for a forehand winner but content to simply hit returns and well-timed lobs. The strategy began to work, as she held serve, then broke Livesay to make it 9-6.

Livesay had two match points on Craig’s next serve, but Craig managed to hold, then broke Livesay again in a game filled with three deuces to make it 9-8. Another long game went to Craig to make it 9-9, and it was during the 19th game, while chasing a lob, that Livesay first fell to the court with cramps.

“I felt it two games earlier,” she said. “She hit that high lob, and when I jumped for it I just fell. At first I didn’t think I could play, but I wanted to finish the match, and I’m glad I did.”

Craig won her sixth straight game to make it 10-9 and served for the match, but Livesay quickly broke Craig to tie the match at 10, closing the game with a nice drop volley out of Craig’s reach.

Craig built a 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker, but a limping Livesay reeled off three straight points to make it 6-6, then sobbed into a towel during the changeover as she again cramped. But she returned to the court, and with the match tied at 8, followed a short volley with a backhand winner for match point. Craig’s wide return of a Livesay shot ended it.

“I’m proud of her,” said Polk County head coach Richard Davis. “I’m proud of both of them. They represented our conference well. That was a great comeback and a great tiebreaker.”

Livesay will next play in the 2A Western Regional on October 17, but a season unlike many ended Wednesday for the remainder of Polk County’s tennis squad. It did so, though, with hope for the program’s future, which seemed unlikely in early August when the Wolverines began practice with just two players.

“It’s been a strange ride,” Davis said. “We started practice not knowing if we would even have a team, and six beginners walked out and every one of them turned it around and got so much better.

“We had some matches that were 5-4, 5-4 and 6-3. You couldn’t ask for anything more than what these girls did this year. Today was great for Alivia and I am so happy for her, but it’s also great that we have five returning girls next year who love to play tennis. If they work out and maybe we get some help from the middle school, we’ll start winning some matches.”

A senior, Livesay hopes her match-winning days aren’t quite over.

“Now it’s on to regionals,” she said. “It feels good.”

The 2014 Polk County girls tennis team (photo courtesy Mary Livesay).
The 2014 Polk County girls tennis team. From left, Shannon Collins, Alicia Twitty, Rhian Alley, Casey Morris, Alivia Livesay, Bella Marino and India Branham (photo courtesy Mary Livesay).