- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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NEWTON, Mass. -- It's not always easy to follow in a successful older sibling's footsteps, just as it's frequently frustrating to have a younger sibling stepping eagerly on your heels.
And when that familiar dance takes place against a daily backdrop of 250 dairy cattle who aren't nearly as troubled as you are by the fact that it's 3:30 a.m. and night is still holding its own in the perpetual tussle with morning, it takes a particular kind of bond to emerge unscathed.
Call it the affection and exasperation of sisters.
These days, Kristin and Kari Daugherty mostly get on the nerves of opponents, each in her own way an important part of a team that returned almost everyone from a group that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season and might be hitting its stride as it travels to No. 9 Xavier on Sunday (ESPN2, 3 p.m. ET) for a showdown with the Atlantic 10's Goliath.
One of just two seniors for Dayton, Kristin is the same star she has been for much of her athletic life, first in basketball and volleyball at River View High School, then dedicated to basketball at the college level. She's second on the Flyers in scoring, fifth in rebounding and third in assists and shoots 58.5 percent from the 3-point line, a mark that would lead the NCAA if she had just four more 3-pointers to qualify. It's Kristin to whom coach Jim Jabir talks as if she were a noncommissioned officer during games, his liaison on the court.
Only a sophomore, and far more often the target of her coach's humor, Kari comes off the bench and plays less, but fills an important role as an outside shooter and steady presence in a rotation in which 10 players average double-digit minutes.
"They're both intelligent," Jabir said. "Kristin is much more athletic, jumps better, runs better, more creative with her moves -- she's a penetrator, slasher, scorer. Kari is longer, is a catch-and-shoot kid. She'll straight-line to the rim, but she's not going to put three moves on you and juke you to get to the rim. They're very different that way."
But the toll they take together these days on teams such as Boston College, which dropped from the national rankings after losing at home to the Flyers on Monday, is partly the product of the grudge matches they played against each other on the family's 1,000-acre farm in northeast Ohio. Kristin is the oldest of Bill's and Caroline's four children, with Kari next in line. Closest in age and always in proximity on a farm a healthy distance from other friends, they did as siblings are wont to do.
"We fought, like all sisters do," Kristin said.
There were plenty of chores to fight over if ammunition for arguments ran low -- the monotony of milking the cows was the task most eagerly avoided, as Kari explained, especially on mornings their grandfather couldn't come help their father start the process and the alarm went off with dawn still just a rumor.
But if farming was the family business, basketball was the passion. Caroline and Bill coached both girls at River View, where Caroline played before going on to a career at Ohio University that earned her MAC player of the decade for the 1980s.
And to hear both sisters tell it, the truly epic battles played out on the court next to the house. They might share a last name with former Cavaliers center Brad Daugherty (no relation), but you get the feeling the games on the farm resembled something closer to Bill Laimbeer's playbook.
"I probably was the bigger cheater," Kari admitted. "I don't like to lose at all, you can ask any one of my teammates. I will do just about anything to try to win. I've tried to learn to somewhat control it -- doesn't work very well. Kristin sometimes just gives up. She knows I won't ever give in, and she's like, 'You know what, Kari? Fine, you're right.'
"And I feel a little guilty, but if I get the win, it's OK."
It wasn't until Kristin was a junior in high school and Kari was a freshman that the two joined forces on the court and established rapprochement off the court. Their brother, Kyle, the youngest of the four siblings, had lost a leg in an accident on the farm just the year before. That trauma drove home the permanence of family and the fickleness of life. And basketball, with parents coaching, Kristin and Kari playing, and Kyle and sister Andi serving as ball boys, gave them an outlet. River View won state titles in each of the two seasons Kristin and Kari played together, a time in which both say they grew close.
Which isn't to say that after two years of experiencing life on her own for the first time at Dayton, Kristin was overjoyed when Kari, largely without consulting her sister, settled on once again following in her footsteps.
"At first, I wasn't thrilled about it, but I think I always knew that she would want to go where I wanted to go," Kristin said.
And because she's the dutiful older sister, she shelved any reservations and set about making sure her younger sister wouldn't get bowled over by the demands of college athletics -- pushing her, coaching her and ultimately protecting her in the summer before Kari's freshman year (a year in which she would twice earn weekly honors as the A-10's top freshman and land on the conference's all-rookie team).
"Honestly, I've always looked up to Kristin," Kari said. "I know sometimes I think I might have got on her nerves growing up. But I always wanted to be with her and just hang out with her. That's one of the main reasons I came to Dayton. was so I could play with her again. I just always had a respect for her; I guess little sisters probably always do. You look up to your big sister, and you want to be like her. Whatever she does, you want to do. So I kind of did the same thing."
Of course, the younger sister also likes to win. And it's worth noting that although Kristin, who has earned numerous academic honors from Dayton and the Atlantic 10, graduated seventh in her high school class, little sister graduated at the top of her class. Once a younger sister, always a younger sister.
"Kristin broke all the records in basketball and everything," Kari said with a degree of mischief. "I was always right behind her in all the basketball categories, but my thing is my grades. I always got a little bit better grades than her, which is something I try to hold on to. She's definitely the better athlete, but I always try to hold on to the better grade-point average, I guess."
Writing another sequel will be difficult. Neither sister expresses a great deal of interest in a hands-on role with the farm, working the kind of hours they watch their father work. But whatever the next step, it seems unlikely it will be taken together. So they work on the final months of a partnership that helped produce two high school state titles and Dayton's first NCAA tournament win, both siblings happy in the end to have had two more years together.
It wasn't necessarily easy for Kristin to be cast back into the role of big sister. And it wasn't easy for Kari to ensure additional years of comparisons to her older sister. But in the end, it's a small price to pay to share it with your best friend.
"First, I think they really love each other, and that's important," Jabir said. "And the other thing is, I think they're both really strong in their own identity of who they are. They're really comfortable in their own skin. It's not a threat -- they don't compare each other. I think maybe twice since they've both been on campus have I said, 'Your sister.' We treat them like two different people."
And so they are, even as it's impossible to miss Kari standing right behind Kristin in the warm-up line before a game, waiting to follow in her footsteps, unaware that all the while each is crafting a story all her own.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
From working together on the farm they grew up on to making the most of their final season together in college, Kristin and Kari Daugherty make a great sister act at Dayton.