CHAMPAIGN – In their younger days – not that long ago – Jenna and Lizzy Dombroski spent their mornings and afternoons playing.
But Jenna, 16, and Lizzy, 14, weren't much interested in playing anything that wasn't a sport. When your father, Jack, is a former Illini linebacker, perhaps that's a part of your DNA.
The sisters had a sports mentality, and it fed into all areas of the realm.
"We were both pretty active in baseball – with the boys – volleyball, basketball, swimming, track, tennis," Jenna recalled. "We did just about everything until we decided there were a lot of opportunities with golf. It opened a lot of doors, and that's what we really wanted to do."
Golf seemed to solve that outlet of competitiveness and gave them an equal amount of unfettered joy, the latter relieving the pressure of the former.
These days, the Centennial girls' golf team is all the better for it. Jenna, a junior, leads the team with a 40.0 stroke average, and Lizzy, a freshman, is next at 42.6. They'll lead the Chargers into Monday's Big 12 Conference meet on the UI Blue Course, where Centennial will contend for a championship.
"We were raised as tomboys," Jenna said. "Grew up competitive, always liked to win."
Said Lizzy: "We never settled."
"And," Jenna interjected, "I don't think we were ever allowed to. 'C'mon, Jenna, let's go do this. C'mon, Jenna, push yourself. Don't quit.' We've never been quitters. We were raised to keep on fighting."
As sisters go, they are close. But those competitive fires linger, even when it's your sister on the other end of the competition.
That's the thing about high school golf. Though team scores are kept, it's also an individual sport. Being separated by two years had previously insulated them, but now they're competing against each other for the first time in their lengthy athletic careers.
"I think there is (a desire to beat the other) way down there," said Jenna, the reigning Twin City tournament champion. "I don't think it comes out very meanly. Deep down in there, we always hope to do better. We make jokes about it, but it's never anything too serious."
Being the youngest, Lizzy naturally has the greatest motivation. But she's adept at keeping results in perspective.
"If Jenna does well, I congratulate her and I feel good for her," Lizzy said. "But I always want to get better so that I can play just as well as she can. I think that's kind of a motivator."
The first match of the season – and Lizzy's prep career – offered an intriguing scene.
Jenna was Centennial's clear No. 1 player entering the match at Maroa-Forsyth. Because it was Lizzy's prep debut, coach Darren Tee paired her with Jenna to help alleviate the butterflies.
"Jenna was kind of the mother hen," Tee said, "and Lizzy whipped her by 6 strokes. Of course, we gave Jenna a hard time on that."
Lizzy shot 38 to earn medalist honors. No one was more stunned than she.
"I went out there just expecting to shoot under 45," Lizzy said. "I was very shocked, to say the least."
Lizzy said she didn't get serious about golf until this summer. Partly because of that, Jenna tried to ensure Lizzy's initial experiences wouldn't sour her on the sport.
"I've been really proud of her," Jenna said. "With the first match, I was kind of nervous because I didn't want her to play bad and get discouraged. I know how easy that can happen. I think she proved herself."
Regardless of the results on the course, it is clear the Dombroskis have no trouble separating golf from the real world. No double bogeys can come between them.
"We're pretty close as sisters," Lizzy said. "We have a lot of fun. We don't really ever get in any fights or anything."
Even when a medalist honor is at stake.