Opponents tangling with the Sterling wrestling team this season will have to try to chop down a virtual garden of Lillys.
The Golden Warriors have three of them on the team: returning starters Curtis and Bryant, who will man the 285 and 170-pound positions, respectively; as well as Makayla, a freshman who is seeking to find her niche on the squad.
Curtis and Bryant have been wrestling since they were youngsters, having been nudged toward the sport by their father, William, who was a 4-year wrestler at Rock Falls in the early 1990s. When Makayla was entering fifth grade, she was asked by her father if she had any interest in picking up the sport.
She said no prior to three consecutive seasons until finally saying yes a year ago, when she was an eighth-grader at Challand. She ended up posting a 2-6 record, with both of her wins coming against boys.
"I just want to prove to everyone it's not just a guys sport," Makayla said. "Girls can do it too."
William's lone stipulation was if his daughter was going to be on the high school team, there would be no quitting once she started.
One thing Makayla has in her favor: any opponent she faces on mat at her projected weight of 126 pounds likely won't be as fearsome as her two older brothers. By all accounts, they do not take it easy on little sis when it comes to roughhousing at home.
"They beat on me a lot," Makayla said.
"She's a tough girl," Bryant said. "She comes after me, and I think she can take care of most guys."
"We give her crap all the time," Curtis said. "Hopefully it'll show on the mat and she won't take any crap from anybody."
Makayla is a cheerleader for football and basketball, and she plans to play softball in the spring. Her athletic focus for now, however, is on learning how to become a better wrestler.
"I like a sport that challenges you," Makayla said. "It's just you out there, and you can't blame anybody else. It's just you out on the mat."
The two older Lillys, meanwhile, each have high aspirations entering the season. Bryant finished 17-16 a year ago, with his win total rising from 12 as a freshman. He's planning on jumping into the 20s as a junior.
"My sophomore year I just wasn't that strong," said Lilly, who has lifted weights virtually non-stop the past year while training for baseball and football seasons. "This year, I've gotten more mature and I think I'm going to be a lot better wrestler."
Curtis, meanwhile, will have a target on his back as one of the top heavyweights around. He finished 36-6 as a junior and reached the semifinals of the Class 2A state tournament before settling for fifth place.
"I'm hoping to top that this year," Curtis said. "I'm hoping not to lose in the semis and go all the way and win it."
Working with siblings, even when one of them is a female, is nothing new for Sterling coach Charlie Bishop. He and his two brothers, Brad and Chris, were each accomplished wrestlers at Dixon.
Charlie's first wrestling partner, at age 5, was his sister, Michele. He's also had a female, senior Gabi Diaz, on his team the last three seasons.
"This is really nothing new for me," Bishop said. "I really like the family aspect of it, and the Lillys, they're all really into the sport. They kind of chip at each other out there, and I think it's good for our team to have them do what they do."