October 21, 2008
Lori McMahon is getting ready for her final road trip.
In just a few months, the Park City High School girls’ tennis coach will pack up the family car and prepare to drive her daughter, Ali, to the University of San Francisco where the talented senior has earned a Division I college tennis scholarship.
This will be the last of hundreds of car trips the two have taken over the years, traveling all over the country so Ali could compete in various tournaments.
"It’s so weird," Lori said. "That’s 10 years of traveling together."
At the awards banquet last week, Lori broke down in tears, realizing that this was the last high school tennis activity she would be sharing with her daughter.
"We’ve grown together and it’s been a special mother-daughter relationship," Lori said.
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Their relationship with each other and the sport of tennis began when Ali was age 2 and picked up a tennis racquet. She began playing competitive tournaments at age 8 and began moving up the ranks from there. Lori has always served as her daughter’s coach in United States Tennis Association (USTA) competition and was already the high school coach when Ali started as a freshman.
The mother-daughter tennis tradition actually started with Lori’s mom, Donna, who Lori said, "raised her children on a tennis court."
"My mom was my coach," she said.
Donna’s love of the game paid off. Lori and her two brothers all attended college on tennis scholarships and her brothers went on to play professionally.
"The passion and love of the game I picked it up from her and I passed it down to my girl," Lori said.
The tradition is particularly poignant for Lori and Ali now. Donna is battling cancer in Montana and Lori make tips up to visit her as much as she can..
"She’s playing in a tough match now," said Lori, voice shaking.
Ali said that sometimes the typical mother-daughter relationship issues arose over the years. When Ali lost a match, Lori would usually steer clear, and Ali admits that sometimes she didn’t listen to her mom in a match.
"It gets really stressful, so I don’t want to listen to her all of the time," Ali said. "But I realized that my mom knew it all."
"I know her game pretty well," Lori said.
Lori said she would nag now and again for Ali to practice and play well, but Ali said it was always supportive. Lori also said that she always gave Ali plenty of freedom and made sure that tennis was beneficial for her daughter and helped to build her self-esteem.
"I knew it was a fine line with Ali," Lori said.
In competitions, both admit that they treat each other differently than they would a regular athlete or coach, often making quips that would never be acceptable if they weren’t related.
"It’s always going to be different," Ali said. "You are always going to be connected. I could ask my mom anything."
This year, Ali also relied a lot on the Miners’ assistant tennis coach, Tim Donnelly, who stepped in to help Ali get that extra edge. Ali said he was constantly practicing hitting with her or giving her motivational talks.
"She was ready for a change," Lori said. "It’s good to have somebody else."
Ali won’t have her mom or Donnelly to go to after this January when she is supposed to report to the University of San Francisco to be a member of their tennis team. Ali had originally planned to graduate in June and arrive on campus with the rest of the incoming class, but when an international player wasn’t able to play this season, the Dons’ coach asked Ali if she could start this year. That means Ali will graduate this December and leave about a month later for school. Ali knows how difficult it will be to say farewell to her mother.
"It’s going to be really hard," Ali said. "It’s so hard to say goodbye to your best friend."
Ali, who finished second at the 3A state championships at the talent-laden first singles position and is ranked 140 by the USTA in her age division, was courted by a number of Division I programs, including USF, the University of Utah, Gonzaga, University of New Mexico, Northern Arizona and Weber State. Ali getting a look from a California school is a big deal. Most of the state’s school either look in-state, internationally or at tennis academy graduates. Ali said that the hard work she put in with her mother definitely helped.
"It was a huge process," she said.
The two targeted schools in the West and then sent out letters, videos and attended as many national championship tournaments as they could. College coaches not only scout the biggest USTA tournaments but also hold interviews with the girls at these events. Ali met the USF’s tennis coach, Hilary Somers, in an interview at the Hard Court Nationals last year and the two immediately hit it off.
"It’s been a learning process for me," Lori said. "It entails a lot."
Ali’s success is huge accomplishment for Lori as well. She is just the second of Lori’s high schools players to land a Division-I scholarship. Three years ago, Devin Peek did the same when she became a member of the California Polytechnic Institute, San Louis Obispo tennis team. Lori will now focus on helping junior Tessa Wray in her college recruitment process.
Lori will drive Ali to college in January and she knows the memories of all the past trips will come flooding back. To save money, the two would always drive to tournaments, sometimes taking multiple-days to get to a destination. She will also probably remember the first time Ali beat her three years ago, when Lori made a monetary bet that Ali couldn’t beat her.
"I went out and crushed her," Ali said.
Lori won’t be all alone when Ali leaves. She still has her husband, Rob, and son, Sam, who is a sophomore at Park City, but chose he lacrosse over tennis as his sport.
"He’ll get a lot of my mom and dad," Ali said.
Lori said that both Rob and Sam have always been supportive of the females’ tennis schedule and was very understanding when it would take them away from hours and days at a time.
Ali suspects that once her playing days are over and she is starting her own family, that she too will pass the love of tennis down to her children and maybe even coach.
"There’s no way I could give up tennis," she said. "You never know, they could end up like us."