Tijana Subotic has been a perfect fit for the dominant and undefeated River Ridge girls tennis team.
The freshman No. 1 has had a breakout debut season for the Royal Knights and her future with the team, in the upcoming postseason and beyond, is bright.
"She fit right into the team. It's been fantastic to see. The kids have really taken to her and she has done a great job for us," Royal Knights coach Doug Howery said.
Subotic joined an already deep and talented River Ridge team and claimed the top seed from former No. 1 Kristin Greenup during preseason tryouts. A shakeup of the seeds ensued, but the girls team has grown stronger with the new additions. It is poised to capture a district championship it last won in 2006.
The freshman has been playing tennis for six years and has junior tournament experience. She also trains at the McMullen Tennis Academy in Clearwater. According to Howery, she has accepted the role and responsibilities of being his top player and is emulating the best qualities of former No. 1 Greenup in her even temper and determination.
"She reminds me a lot of Kristin. She is very focused and goes out and does her thing. Having Kristin, being a senior, and seeing the same things in her as I see in Tijana, who is a freshman, is nice to have," Howery said.
According to Subotic, tennis is central to her family life. The Subotics left war-torn Bosnia in the early '90s for Germany, where Tijana and her younger sister, Tamara, were born. The family finally settled in Florida a few years later. When Tijana was 8 years old, the family took up tennis.
"Tennis is something that we have always had. Just going out on the weekends and spending time with my dad is great. And also with my sister as well. It's just fun to have a person there who is always around. Someone to talk to about the sport," Subotic said.
She said that her father, Mickey, is the primary force behind the family's fitness and is the key motivator for her commitment to athletics.
"My dad has been the one who has been driving me and pushing me every week to get better and better. I have to give him a lot of credit for that. He is really the inspiration," Subotic said.
When Subotic is a senior, her sister will enter River Ridge and join the tennis team. Subotic acknowledged a competitive rivalry between the two siblings. The jockeying for the No. 1 position, even at this early stage with two more seasons to go, comes with some trash talking.
"She's always been, 'You know you aren't going to be No. 1 anymore when I come in.' And I go, 'Yeah, sure,'" Subotic said.
While the elder Subotic will be hard-pressed to relinquish her future position, her case for the position now is as strong as ever. She is 13-0 in singles and undefeated in doubles play with Greenup. Her biggest matches await her in the upcoming 3A-5 district tournament, with River Ridge as the host school. Subotic said that she is treating her upcoming rematches the same way as she did during the regular season.
"Every school is a challenge, of course. There really has not been a school who has been a big challenge. I heard some stuff from Wiregrass but it didn't really affect me. I just wanted to go out there and play a match like always. I don't look at if a school is undefeated or if that school beat this other school. It really doesn't matter to me. I treat all schools the same," Subotic said.
Subotic said that she intends on keeping her grades up and getting more involved during her following years at River Ridge. She also plans on joining Interact Club and getting more involved in other extracurricular activities.
"I want to stay active in sports and volunteer. I'm trying to really focus on my school and try to make good grades. I really want to keep a good balance between sports and school," Subotic said.
In her own game, Subotic said that she will work on her fitness level.
"I know that my lack of strength is something I need to work on. Hopefully as the years go on I will start to get better and better and getting stronger every year," Subotic said.