Molly Livingston lives for volleyball.
She’ll pull her red hair back into a long ponytail or weave it into two long braids and lose herself in a game she’s grown to love.
She stands 6-feet-2, plays middle hitter for High Point University, and she’s good. She started volleyball as a seventh-grader in her hometown of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and since then, she has earned her share of awards.
That includes her most recent: Big South’s Volleyball Player of the Year.
She received a full athletic scholarship to play volleyball at HPU, and for the past four years, she’s done so well in the classroom she’s been named a Millis Scholar Athlete every year.
She’ll graduate in May with a degree in graphic design and a minor in marketing. Then, she’ll head overseas. She has signed with an agent, and she’ll play professional volleyball in Europe.
But when her senior season ended with an injury, she realized she needed to craft a life beyond a volleyball court. She went to see the man she calls Meek. She had a big question to ask.
“What am I going to do with my life?”
The Importance of a Mentor
In January 2018, Ryan Meek came to HPU to coach volleyball after two successful seasons as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Creighton University. At Creighton, he worked with three-time National Coach of the Year Kirsten Bernthal Booth.
Like Livingston, Meek lives for volleyball. He played through college, he has coached for the past 15 years, and his wife, Heather, played volleyball at the University of Arkansas.
When Heather’s college career ended in 2008, she was like Livingston.
“What do I do now?” she asked.
Coach Meek has heard many volleyball players ask the same thing. As they move from club team to high school to college, they spend every waking moment on volleyball. Once their career ends, they often feel lost.
His wife felt that way. Heather Meek started in retail. She didn’t like it. She ended up getting a master’s in sports marketing and becoming a media buyer.
But Coach Meek saw a different future for Livingston, his star player.
She had designed the team’s hoodie sweatshirts, and her teammates had watched her work on her graphic design projects before and after games. Livingston would be on the team bus, passing around her designs and asking, “What do you think?”
Meek knew Livingston was talented. He also had an understanding of her post-college angst. So, he began asking questions and prodding Livingston to think about her future.
But not her injury.
The Impact of One Meeting
It was early December when Livingston hobbled into Meek’s office in the Millis Athletic Center with her left leg in a plastic cast. Her injury happened before one of the last big moments of her college career: NCAA Division-1 Volleyball Tournament.
The tournament took place a week after Thanksgiving in Milwaukee, an hour east of Livingston’s hometown.
Two generations of her family had come to see her play, and they arrived wearing a design surprise — purple HPU Panther shirts with a volleyball and the phrase “Good Golly, Miss Molly” across the back.
Livingston saw it and laughed.
“Of course, my family would do something super embarrassing when I’m home,” she said to herself.
But her homecoming was bittersweet.
In a practice the night before their game against Marquette University, she tore a ligament in her left ankle. She couldn’t play or barely walk. Marquette knocked HPU out of the tournament. HPU lost all three games.
After that emotional rollercoaster, Livingston went to see Meek. She trusted him because of his knowledge for the game.
This time, she needed his knowledge about life.
As they talked, Meek remembered the entrepreneurial success one of his high school friends experienced 20 years ago in California. He sold T-shirts out of the trunk of his car. He’s now working in California for Hulu.
Meek knew the player he called “Mol” could have the same kind of success because of her drive, work ethic and talent.
“Mol, you love design,” Meek told her. “Why not design T-shirts that you would want?”
Livingston loved the idea. Design T-shirts and start her own apparel company.
“I felt empowered,” she says. “Meek gave me confidence because he had confidence in me.”
The Entrepreneurial Expertise of HPU
Meek recommended that Livingston see business professors to get advice. Livingston’s first stop: Kathy Elliott, the director of HPU’s Belk Center for Entrepreneurship.
“I didn’t know who she was when she walked in, but she came in bigger than life,” says Elliott, an assistant professor of the practice of entrepreneurship. “She has this beautiful red hair, and in this big voice, she said, ‘I want to talk to you about my business idea.’
“And when she talked about it, her eyes just lit up.”
Elliott and Troy Knauss, an assistant professor of the practice of entrepreneurship, gave Livingston pointers on everything from pricing to e-commerce.
Then over winter break, Livingston shared her ideas with her mom, Missy, a teacher of family and consumer science at Sun Prairie High, their alma mater. They sat in the living room one morning, and over coffee, Livingston unveiled on her computer her design ideas.
Her mom was amazed. She had remembered when her oldest daughter, one of her four children, drew things like flowers.
Now … this.
Livingston discovered the potential of a graphic design career at HPU. The professor who helped her discover her talent was the late Allan Beaver, HPU’s Artist in Residence. He called her “Red.”
Beaver died in February of pancreatic cancer. He was 80. On a Sunday in March, Livingston sat on the fourth row at Beaver’s memorial at HPU. She came to remember her mentor. The year before, Beaver had written her a six-paragraph letter of recommendation.
“She is talented, focused and a committed student with maturity beyond her years,” Beaver wrote.
Livingston will always remember Beaver’s words. But moreover, she will remember how Beaver made her feel.
“It’s crazy that I knew him for such a short period of time, but he had such an impact on me,” Livingston says. “He made me love graphic design and the art behind it.”
That love is easy to see in her apparel company. She calls it Coast Easy.
A Supportive Circle of Friends
Ali Thanhauser, one of Livingston’s HPU teammates, helped her come up with the name. They discovered it by accident.
Livingston had vacationed with her family at North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and she wanted a name that depicted the freedom and fun she found in the outdoors. As she and Thanhauser brainstormed, Livingston typed Easy Coast.
Or so she thought.
She typed Coast Easy. The name stuck.
Thanhauser, a sophomore entrepreneurship major from Raleigh, North Carolina, turned into what she calls a “hype man.” She encouraged Livingston, gave her ideas on design and did a promotional shoot and YouTube video with their friend, finance major Aleah Wendels.
At first, Livingston kept the idea of Coast Easy between Thanhauser and their close circle of friends. Then came Feb. 5.
Livingston announced to the world on Instagram the creation of Coast Easy, a company that sold hats, hoodies, short-sleeve T-shirts, long-sleeve T-shirts and crop tops. Coast Easy, she wrote, was inspired by the North Carolina coast and “the beauty of this world.”
Today, she’s filling orders and finding more customers.
But it’s bigger than that.
“It’s two different dreams working together,” says Livingston, referring to volleyball and Coast Easy. “I can take this with me.”
HPU: A Special Place
At HPU, Livingston learned how to run an apparel company, she started her own her graphics design brand, Miss Molly Graphics, and she knows she can take an idea and make it happen.
Because of Coast Easy, Livingston has changed. Thanhauser sees that.
“I think it has enabled her to be bolder,” Thanhauser says. “You can’t hide a clothing brand for very long before someone says, ‘Hey, what’s this?’ And in this short amount of time, an idea from Molly’s head has become a reality. It’s really cool to watch that process.”
Coach Meek thinks so, too. And it began in his office.
“I knew if she put her mind to it, she would come up with something people wanted,” he says. “But I didn’t foresee it would happen this quick. She is a doer.”
She is. Just ask Missy Livingston, Molly’s mom.
“She’s always been able to put something in her heart and find a way to make it happen,” Missy says. “But I can’t help but think about what she’s been given by going to this amazing school.”
Molly knows that.
“It’s a great feeling to have someone behind you at a great university to help support your dreams,” she says. “That’s pretty special, and High Point has the ability to make people feel special.”