Goalie Jill Baran has the same plan for every Perry Hall field hockey practice -- no one puts the ball in the cage, especially not her sisters, Lori and Kathy.
As forwards, however, Lori and Kathy constantly try to develop new ways to beat Jill, turning Gators' shooting drills into sibling rivalry. Although the Barans share a strong sisterly bond, their rivalry on the practice field can be intense.
"They tend to get on each other," said Gators assistant coach Linda Fisher. "They're either best buddies or they're yelling at each other. Jill respects both Lori and Kathy, but she hates it when they score on her and they go out of their way to score on her."
Lori and Kathy even developed a complicated corner play in their determination to put the ball past their sister. They figured if the play would work on Jill, who knows their every move, it would work on other goalies.
It did. In Tuesday's 5-3 upset of No. 8 Catonsville, the sister corner combination, Kathy to Lori, connected for the first goal in what would end up being the Gators' biggest win of the season.
Kathy finished with two goals and an assist. Lori had a goal and an assist. Jill made just three saves, but her aggressive play in the circle foiled a half dozen other Comets drives.
This triple threat has helped the Gators flirt with a top-15 ranking all season. At 4-2-1, the Gators are off to their best start in years. A week before the Catonsville game, they tied three-time defending Baltimore County champ and No. 10-ranked Hereford, 2-2, as Lori scored both goals unassisted and Jill had 13 saves.
The dynamic among the three sisters provides an interesting edge, but the rivalry does not get out of hand, said first-year head coach Deanna Smith, who also coached all three on the JV level.
"They are so competitive with each other, but at the same time, they are so good for each other," Smith said. "They are so motivated, and they know how to push each others buttons. You can see they really know how to get each other fired up."
On game day, however, the rivalry disappears.
"We're real supportive of each other," Kathy said. "But we think of our whole team as one big family. We're all always there for each other if we do something well."
Within the close-knit Gators team, the Barans fit into a strong veteran group that has been together for three years. Almost every one of the Gators played on the county champion JV team in 1996 or on the team that came close to the title in 1997.
Still, Kathy said there is one big difference.
"We take it home with us," she said. "The rest of the players have to call someone, but we don't. We have someone to talk to about it all the time."
At home, said Jill, "it's more that we tell each other what we can work on than fighting with each other. If I see something they're doing wrong, I'll tell them about it and they'll work to fix it."
All of the sisters are naturally competitive, athletic, speedy and agile. They have accumulated an impressive athletic resume at Perry Hall, earning 24 varsity letters among them. All three also play lacrosse. Kathy runs indoor track. Jill plays basketball.
Soccer players since they were little, they all opted for field hockey as freshmen. Only Jill still plays club soccer.
Always ready to try a new sport, they agreed with their father Jeff Baran, a field hockey official, that it would be easier to make the Gators field hockey team than the soccer team. He taught the trio and their older sister Amy, 22, the basics of the game in their back yard.
Last year, Lori earned a spot on the All-Baltimore City/County second team. Best known for her precise stickwork, quick dodges and keen eye for passing, she is the quiet, more introspective sister.
Twins Kathy and Jill, 16-year-old juniors, are more extroverted. Aggressive and fearless on the field or in the cage, they excel more every day in their positions. Kathy has been accepted into the U.S. Field Hockey Association's Olympic development style Futures Program.
Having played together in many sports since they were 5 or 6 years old, the sisters have developed a feel for each other's moves. That's especially evident between Kathy and Lori, a 17-year-old senior, on the right side of the front line.
"We just know how each other thinks," Lori said. "If a certain play occurs, I know Kathy will probably want to go here, so I know how to position myself."
"We don't actually communicate that much," Kathy said. "We just know where each other is going to be."
Those same instincts also come into play when they shoot at Jill, who took to the cage as a freshman because the JV team needed a goalie.
"I know how Jill works," Lori said, "so I know how to score on her."
Their practice battles simply provide all that much more incentive to improve.
"If they shoot on me and score, I just work that much harder," said Jill, who knows her sisters will do the same.