TAMPA — On this sultry weekday morning, sisters Sarah and Elizabeth Means aren't busy soaking up sunshine on the beach or relaxing like many college students often do during summer vacation.
Instead, the former Wiregrass Ranch High and current Florida Gulf Coast University tennis standouts are practicing at Hunter's Green Country Club. Their mother, Roslyn Means, sits on a concrete bleacher and watches keenly from behind a small chain-link fence.
"They practice six days a week during the season," remarks Roslyn, her eyes following the ball as it travels back and forth across the net. "But only two or three right now. They still have to be a kid. You know, let their hair down; go have fun."
For the Means sisters, who come from a military family, tennis isn't just a sport. It's their livelihood.
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Years ago, when the family resided in Washington, D.C., Roslyn decided to take Elizabeth, 3, and Sarah, 4, with her to the fitness center at Bolling Air Force Base.
While she worked out, the sisters stumbled upon a set of badminton rackets and used them to bounce racquetballs into the air to pass the time.
Their playful activity caught the eye of a coach, who pulled Roslyn aside and told her that he wanted to work with the toddlers after being impressed by their hand-eye coordination.
Though the sisters had already participated in other sports like soccer and fencing, tennis piqued their interest the most.
"He wanted see what they had and it kind of just went from there," Roslyn recalled. "It almost seemed like it came naturally to them."
Sarah started playing first while Elizabeth would run around the court and pick up the balls on the other side. At age 7, Elizabeth picked up a racket and started hitting the balls back to her older sister.
"It really became a family sport," said Sarah, now the No. 1 singles player at FGCU. "We saw that we had gifts and talents in it, so we decided to pursue it as wholeheartedly as we could."
That commitment eventually led the family to move to Florida, giving Sarah and Elizabeth an opportunity for better training.
Soon, the duo was competing in tournaments against some of the top players in the nation.
"We worked really hard," Elizabeth said. "We kept believing in ourselves and we got some really good results."
One of the biggest challenges for the sisters came when they decided to compete at Wiregrass Ranch High — during their sophomore and junior years, respectively — in 2010 .
It wasn't the talent level that presented issues, but the element of team play. The sisters adjusted their training regimen to include more doubles competition.
The extra work paid off as Sarah and Elizabeth captured the Class 3A overall doubles title — Wiregrass' first in any sport — to help lead the team to a third-place finish in its first trip to state.
After the season, the sisters stopped playing at Wiregrass Ranch to focus on academics and the junior circuit, where they competed in international events in Europe and South America.
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When the time came to choose a college, Sarah signed with Division I Florida Gulf Coast during her senior year and Elizabeth, naturally, followed a year later.
There, the Meanses have continued to excel.
Sarah, a rising senior, finished 10-10 in tough top singles competition last season and 8-11 in doubles with Elizabeth.
Last month, she won a mixed doubles title for the second straight year at the U.S. Tennis Association's National Open Clay Court Championships in Fort Lauderdale.
Elizabeth went 13-7 in the No. 5 spot as a sophomore. She was honored by the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2013 as a unanimous selection to its all-freshman team after going 15-3 in singles play her first year.
"We always bring out our best in each other," Sarah said, smiling at Elizabeth. "When we practice together, we bring our best game. Then (we both) improve together as well and that's really important."
After college, the sisters hope to play in the professional ranks and continue traveling the world.
Their only stipulation?
To keep going the way they always have, together.