LITHIA — It's not uncommon to scan any Hillsborough County high school roster and see some matching last names. After all, siblings within four years of each other often grow up playing the same sports. Two pairs is unusual, and three sets is downright rare.
But what the Newsome girl's soccer team has goes way beyond all that.
"We're seriously like one big family," Newsome coach Kelly Townsend said. "Literally."
The Wolves have a remarkable five sets of sisters dotting the roster this year: the Cates (Ana and Maria), the Grahams (Kendall and Paige), the Evers (Ashley and Caroline), the Simpsons (Sam and Jackie) and the Raineys (Hannah and Allison).
"I think it's great," Sam Simpson said. "We all know each other really well but when it comes down to it, the little sisters know who's the boss."
Having that many sets of sisters on the roster can make for an interesting team dynamic, but throw into the mix a significant age gap and it becomes that much more volatile. All of the younger siblings are freshmen and the older sisters are all seniors, except for junior Hannah Rainey.
"There can be some butting of heads," Sam Simpson said.
As with any family, there are quirks about each set that distinguishes them. Townsend said the Evers are the closest in personality, the Simpsons are the mellowest and the Grahams do the bulk of the clashing.
"Kendall just rips into (Paige) sometimes," she said. "She really gets after her."
Townsend, who must feel equal parts soccer coach and mother, said the key to keeping the peace is understanding and adapting to each of their personalities, no matter how similar they appear to be.
"No matter what happens with (the sisters) at home, it's important for the success of the team for everyone to be on the same page when we're on the field," she said. "At the end of the day, that's the most important thing, and differences have to be put aside."
That, however, doesn't mean the sister in each of them doesn't come out occasionally. Sometimes it's a bit of needling, sometimes it's a verbal barb and other times it has been even more heated.
"Oh, there's been punches thrown," Townsend said with a chuckle. "And if I get in the middle of it, there's been some punches that end up going my way too."
And although scrapping isn't uncommon among family members, there's something to be said about camaraderie. When you grow up playing backyard soccer, eating together and sleeping in adjoining rooms, an unspoken understanding blossoms.
"We know how to work together on the field," Sam said. "It makes it easier when you know the runs the other person will be making."
The sisters have led Newsome to a 15-4 record heading into the holiday break. The Wolves won the Cape Coral Invitational earlier this season and finished second in the Wharton Invitational and the Sarasota Holiday Classic.
Townsend quickly dismissed any talk of nepotism as nonsense.
"I picked the 24 best players," she said. "The younger girls have a chance to be as good, or in some cases, better than their older sisters."
Anything short of a state championship for this group likely will be considered a disappointment. Since the older group of sisters came to Newsome, the Wolves have twice reached the region final and once played in the state semifinal.
Part of the reason the Wolves have four losses at this point in the season can be attributed to injuries and illness. Graham, the Times' 2006-07 Player of the Year, has missed considerable time due to surgery, and an outbreak of pneumonia swept through the team about three weeks ago.
But Sam Simpson said she expects things to come together when the Wolves are finally healthy.
"We talked about this the other day," Sam said. "And even though we've lost a few matches this year, when we get everybody back and healthy, we'll be in good shape."