Aron Lankford always wanted a little sister.
Someone who would always be there when she needed her.
Someone to share in fun activities and could stay up late talking for hours after their parents had gone to bed.
And someone who would always have Lankford’s back, becoming a best friend like no other to the Eastern Shore native as she progressed through her life.
Lankford eventually got her wish, as her mother Mandy brought home a baby sister named Jerri.
From that moment on, the two were inseparable.
As the two grew up, the Lankford sisters remained close, going to school together, playing games together and eventually, practicing field hockey together.
For the past few years, the field hockey field at Holly Grove Christian School has been where Aron and Jerri have developed their game, while turning into dominant athletes on the Lower Shore.
A senior goalie at Holly Grove, Aron is a two-time All-ESIAC First Team Selection, winning the conference’s Player of the Year award in 2016.
In April, she was selected to the U-19 Indoor National Field Hockey Team, with a chance to learn from some of the top hockey players and coaches in the country.
“There were a lot of really good goalies that tried out, so I wasn’t really expecting to get it,” Aron said in May. “It’s been really exciting.”
Jerri, a junior defender on the squad, has seen similar success in her three seasons.
Much like her sister, Jerri earned an All-ESIAC First Team nod last season, while awarded a Second Team selection her sophomore season. Despite her primary duty as a defender, Jerri has made her presence known on the offensive end, scoring nine goals and racking up 13 assists as of Oct. 19.
“My team really helps me a lot,” Jerri Lankford said. “They’re really good at taking the ball up the field, and I don’t have to worry about running myself to death. I go with my gut, and we’ve all played together since third grade, so we’re a big family and it makes it easier and more comfortable to go out and play.”
Two peas in a pod
But both athletes recognize their success has come through the support of their sibling and teammates.
The Eagles finished the regular season with a 9-3 overall record, placing them third in the conference standings.
Their mother, Mandy, has been the head field hockey coach at Holly Grove the past four seasons, and although it has helped having familiarity with their coach, the Lankford sisters don’t receive any special treatment just because their mother runs the show.
If anything, Mandy Lankford is harder on them.
“I have super high expectations for them,” Mandy Lankford said. “I think I’m harder on my two than I am the rest, but when someone has the goal to play at the next level, I have high expectations, and I have that with any member of our team wanting to get to the next level.”
Having their mom as the coach has benefited their skills, but it’s been the chemistry built between the sisters that has helped them excel season after season.
The two are core pieces of the Eagles’ final line of defense. As Aron stations the cage with nine shutouts on the season, Jerri is the general of a Holly Grove back line that allows 0.6 goals per game.
Opposing forwards and midfielders have had their hands full when facing off against the Eagles. Rather than get the ball past one Lankford, they must deal with double the trouble.
“I wish we could play in college together, but she doesn’t want to,” Jerri Lankford said with a laugh. “Whenever a ball gets past us, I’m always like, ‘Aron’s got it,’ and that’s how it’s always been.”
The duo’s dominance helped lead the team to the ESIAC playoffs, matching up against Gunston in the semifinal round.
Splitting the regular season, Holly Grove defeated their rival in enemy territory, sending them to the ESIAC championship game on Friday.
In a year that has seen a defensive heavy unit, the Eagles are throwing their focus toward the offensive end, where they hope to find the scoreboard early and often and cruise to an easy victory.
“We need to focus on our attacking skills and making sure we make good decision,” Mandy Lankford said. “We’re not a super high scoring team compared to other teams, but we’ve got the talent to put up goals.”
Once Aron walks across the stage at the end of the year to receive her high school diploma, the Lankford sisters will have to start adapting to life without the other physically by their side.
Hoping to play on the national stage one day, Aron has yet to commit to a college, but knows she wants to play at the highest level possible over the next four years.
Jerri still has one year left in her high school career, but the junior has already verbally committed to the University of Connecticut once she graduates. As of Oct. 19, the Huskies are undefeated and came up just short of a national title last season.
But until college comes around, the two are cherishing every moment they have with one another and their teammates.
Being far from home away from their family will be an adjustment for the duo, but like they’ve done so many times in their lives, the Lankford sisters expect to remain a united front.
And for Jerri, while Aron may be gone, she will still have a group of players she considers to be her family.
“There are times we get angry at each other, but we know it’s never too deep,” Jerri Lankford said. “We click really well, as a team too, and it’s just a big a family and not all the teenage girl drama.
“We’re all like sisters.”