By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Nocatee resident Liana McCormack has been playing tennis since she was five years old, courtesy of her late father, German Aguero, being a local tennis teaching pro. “It is kind of in my DNA,” joked McCormack. She played all through Mandarin High School, graduated in 1996 and earned a scholarship to the University of Illinois. She was ranked number eight in Florida by the United States Tennis Association. “Tennis was my life. That was all I did. I ate, slept and breathed tennis,” said McCormack. Two years into playing at the college level, McCormack got a stress fracture in one leg that ended her college tennis career; however, she was able to maintain her scholarship via medical leave and had a chance to fully embrace college life. It wasn’t easy though — McCormack suddenly had to consider who she was outside of tennis. She graduated with a psychology degree, returned to Florida and worked in real estate for six years; however, she missed the game of tennis and the sport’s vibe. She was offered the head pro position at the Julington Creek Country Club in 2007, where she worked for six years. When she became a mom of three, McCormack decided to stay home, but soon felt the desire to do something more. That’s when she bumped into a friend familiar with her background who expressed an interest in learning how to play tennis. McCormack agreed and taught a lesson to two friends just for fun at the Nocatee tennis courts. Within a month, two friends became 20 women wanting to take lessons, and McCormack had a new job. That was just the beginning for a group of women who ended up forming the Beachwalk Women’s Weekday Tennis Team. They entered as the underdog and then took the number one spot in the Country Club D Team League for the 2020 – 2021 season.
Q: Explain how you became part of the Beachwalk Women’s Weekday Tennis Team.
A: Six months into giving lessons, I petitioned the league to get a travel team started because we did not have enough courts at Nocatee to host as a club. By the second year, we were starting to win some matches. By the third season, we finished in the top five. Then COVID cut the season short. That’s when I heard about six new clay courts at Beachwalk. After speaking to Beachwalk, they were able to create a membership that all my ladies joined, which gave us a place to play and host tournaments. I became the team coordinator of women’s tennis in Beachwalk and now give beginner clinics to homeowners there. I coach 60 women, and I went from one to four teams.
Q: What is your teaching method?
A: You cannot teach how you play. I teach in a way that when you walk off the court you are feeling incredibly successful. I teach the basics first and get you to the point where you can compete. From there, you can polish your skills, and then you want to play more. You have to be in competition to stay with it and to work for it.
Q: What did tennis teach you?
A: Tennis completely changed my life. I did not realize it at the time. My college scholarship was based on my performance, so the stakes were very high. I don’t think that I really realized how much pressure I was under at the age of 17. It definitely taught me resiliency at a young age, and it taught me to be mentally tough. Tennis is a metaphor for life: facing adversity, ups and downs and sometimes you don’t win, but you have to keep going.
Q: You mentioned giving tennis lessons in the Hamptons. Who did you teach?
A: It was pretty much like teaching tennis to the stars. I taught Star Jones, Christy Turlington, Ed Burns, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffett’s son and NBC anchors. I felt like I was vacationing in the Hamptons for four months.
Q: How do you feel about your Beachwalk team?
A: I love my ladies, and they have become like family. They are so sweet, and they work so hard. I am so proud of them, and I get so much happiness from teaching. I tell them to never minimize the impact they are having on their children by winning, losing and facing adversity through tennis.
[Author’s note: For more information on the Beachwalk Women’s Weekday Tennis Team, McCormack can be reached at email@example.com.] CUTLINE
Photo courtesy Liana McCormack
Liana McCormack and her family.