The light fixture that used to illuminate Carol and George Tankard's back yard is broken. The screen door has seen better days. And a dirt patch mars an otherwise pristine lawn.

But Carol Tankard sees no reason to fix these things soon. Daughters Sara and Janie -- River Hill midfielders -- have been practicing soccer in the back yard for more than a decade, and their parents don't mind some minor damage from a few errant kicks.

"They use a wall of our house for a goal, and sometime they miss -- that's what happened to the light," Carol said. "They've spent so much time standing in one space working on juggling [with their feet] they wore out the grass. Anytime I need to find them, I just look out the kitchen window."

Before high school, the only time the sisters played on the same field was at home. Their age difference puts them on separate club teams, but the two have flourished together as starters for one of the area's top high school teams.

Sara, a 16-year-old junior, and Janie, a 15-year-old sophomore, play side by side at center midfield, often acting as catalysts for offensive attacks and in charge of marking top opposing players.

"A lot of what we do depends on them, and they complement each other well," said River Hill Coach Brian Song. "They both hate to lose, and when you put them against each other in a drill they really go at each other. Sara is a great leader and has a demeanor that as soon as the game starts it's like she flips a switch and doesn't stop. Janie's feisty, but sometimes you have to push the button for her."

There are two dimensions to the sisters' relationship. The most visible occurs on the soccer field, where they both can read plays before they develop, cutting into passing lanes to force turnovers. They have deft touches and nice accuracy to find open teammates.

"I think because we've played soccer with each other for so long, we know what each other is going to do," Sara said. "I think we really push each other out there, but it's not competition in a bad way. We just try to out-do each other."

As a freshman in 2003, Sara earned a varsity starting spot before the first day of school and played an important role as the Hawks progressed to the 3A state tournament.

Janie arrived last fall and quickly shed the stigma of being "Sara's younger sister" by outplaying several upperclassmen in preseason practice to earn her own starting spot. Janie posted six goals and five assists, and Sara added four goals and six assists as the Hawks finished 12-5. The team lost to Centennial in the 3A East Region final.

"There was a lot of pressure on Janie after what Sara did," said junior Erika Theisen, who has known the sisters since elementary school. "But you could see right away that Janie had that drive and was really determined to be just as good."

Off the field, the sisters have different friends, styles and interests. Janie is a journalist with the school newspaper; Sara is president of the school Future Educators of America Club.

"It's almost like we're [each] two different people," Janie said. "I think soccer has really helped bring us together. I'm glad we're getting the chance to play on the same team."

So are the rest of the Hawks. River Hill, which starts one of the area's most inexperienced teams -- its only senior starter is defender Cailan Ryan -- entered the week 3-1. The Hawks opened with a 2-1 win over John Carroll, the top-ranked team in the Baltimore area, then posted a 1-0 victory at then-No. 10 Urbana. The Hawks took second in the River Hill Tournament on Saturday, opening with a 1-0 win over then-No. 4 Bethesda-Chevy Chase, the defending Maryland 3A champion, but falling to Eleanor Roosevelt in the final, 4-2.

"I think this team is more consistent than last year's team because there were games that some players didn't show up mentally," Sara said. "We're a young team, but we're also more talented than we were last year."

Sophomore Janie Tankard had six goals and five assists for River Hill last year.River Hill's Sara Tankard, left, shields the ball from an Urbana defender.