TAMPA — When John Most came to Carrollwood Day to start the school’s tennis program last year, he heard there was a pretty good trio of tennis players in the hallways. The challenge was to convince them to add school tennis to an already busy USTA schedule.
“I was told they weren’t going to play tennis, that their training wouldn’t allow for that,” Most said of Eric, Jackie and Lauren Fitz-Randolph. “And I had Eric come to a meeting and just was very casual, told him we’d love to have him and that I thought it would enhance the social ability of the high school experience, to give him the camaraderie that a team would bring.”
Eric, now a junior, decided to give the squad a try. And before long he had his sisters, Jackie, a freshman, and Lauren, who is in seventh grade, playing for Most’s wife, Susan, on the girls team.
The payoff was instant. Eric advanced to the Class A state semifinals of the No. 1 singles competition, and Jackie and Lauren reached the title game in No. 1 doubles. And this season, all three will be back at states, along with the rest of the Carrollwood Day girls team, which won its A-8 district and two region matches — the first postseason titles in school history.
Not bad for a group that fell into tennis after trying several other sports first. Jackie and Lauren started as competitive gymnasts, and Eric preferred tennis over swimming and golf when he tried all three at a camp at north Tampa’s Avila County Club when he was about 10 years old. His sisters soon followed.
“We’ll go up to the practice courts and just kind of goof off and challenge each other,” Eric said. “It’s very competitive but very fun.”
The three compete in almost anything — pingpong, swimming, basketball, and even Angry Birds, which is Jackie’s forte, Eric said. That competitive drive is something their father, Rod, a two-time Olympian on the U.S. shooting team in 1980 and ’88, saw when each was between 3 and 5 years old.
“It manifests itself in the form of frustration,” he said. “Just really not being happy with mediocrity. That dissatisfaction with mediocrity is really what you need to succeed. Because if you are complacent, then you’ll just be mediocre.”
With each sibling boasting a top-40 USTA ranking in his or her respective age group and a travel schedule that has the family — including mom Michelle and youngest sister Danielle, 11 — on the road at tournaments an average of three weekends each month, mediocrity isn’t a concern. And all three have their eyes set on attaining that first state title in school history.
“Last year we didn’t really have that much pressure on us, and we made it really far and lost to a very good team,” Jackie said.“But now that we’re more experienced this year,” said Lauren, picking up the conversation, “we want to do better.”
When: 4A Monday-Wednesday, 8 a.m.; 3A Wednesday-April 20, 8
Where: Team competition at Sanlando Park; individual competition at Lake Brantley
4A qualifiers: Plant’s boys and girls teams
3A qualifiers: King’s boys team, King’s Rachael Adler (No. 1 girls singles), Sickles’ Sarah Hartman and Victoria Diaz (No. 1 girls doubles)
When: 2A Monday-Wednesday, 8 a.m.; A Wednesday-April 20, 8
Where: Team competition at Casselberry Red Bug Lake Park; individual competition at Sanford Sylvan Lake Park
2A qualifiers: Jesuit boys team, Holy Names girls team
A qualifiers: Carrollwood Day’s Eric Fitz-Randolph (No. 1 boys singles), Tampa Prep’s Jake Gabay and Giacomo Campus (No. 1 boys doubles), Carrollwood Day girls team