Twin billing (SOFTBALL)

Brian Sumers

Early in their lives, twin sisters Kate and Caryl Drohan learned to play with the boys. Their two brothers made sure of that.

“They started throwing things at us and we had no choice,” said Kate, the Northwestern head softball coach. “We could either catch it or it was going to hit us.”

Since then, the sisters have learned a bit more about sports — especially softball. They both walked on at Providence College, where they won the 1994 Big East Championship. During her playing career, Kate was named All-Big East three times. Caryl, who claims to be the better defensive player of the two, was second team all-conference in 1995.

After they graduated, however, Kate and Caryl went to different schools to start their coaching careers.

But when Kate was named NU’s head coach before the 2002 season, she decided to hire the most loyal, knowledgeable assistant she could find. She brought her sister, then on Hofstra’s coaching staff, to Evanston.

“She’s absolutely an overqualified assistant coach,” Kate said. “The family atmosphere creates a situation where you can be honest all the time. I’m not worried about her motives or her agenda.”

For some, it might be difficult to work under a sibling — especially one who is the same age. But their mother Janet Drohan said she doesn’t think Caryl minds being employed by her sister.

“Caryl kiddingly says, ‘I don’t mind working for Kate because I’ve been doing what she’s asked me to do my whole life,'” Janet said. ‘”Now I can get paid for it.”‘

When the girls were 5 or 6 years old, Janet said she finally told them that Kate is 20 minutes older than Caryl (“Longest 20 minutes of my life,” Janet joked). Ever since, Kate’s been acting like the older sister, their mom said.

But on the field, Kate said she views her sister as an equal. Although Kate’s in charge of the NU team, she is willing to delegate authority to Caryl.

While Kate likes to talk strategy with her twin, she said she must occasionally remind herself that she’s the head coach.

Alicia Smith, the third coach on NU’s staff, said the sisters agree on coaching decisions — usually.

“Am I the occasional referee?” she said. “Well sure. But the most important thing in times like that is not to panic. Just know that within five minutes, it’ll be like nothing ever happened.

“No matter what one says to the other, they still love and respect each other.”

Smith, now in her second season at NU, said there is one positive about working with the twin sisters.

“It’s interesting, because everyone knows who I am,” she said. “Then people try to guess who the two of them are.”

The twins not only look alike, but junior second baseman Carrie Leto said she’s noticed something uncanny about them.

“I always look at them and try to see if they can read each other’s minds,” Leto said. “I definitely think they have a sister connection when they’re on the field.”

During the Drohan’s two years together at NU, Leto said her teammates have noticed some subtle differences between them. Of the two, Caryl’s the more caring and motherly coach. She’s earned the nickname “Nervous Nelly,” because she always worries about her players, both on and off the field.

Kate and Caryl’s mother Janet, who occasionally makes the trip to Evanston from Connecticut for NU games, said she’s noticed the twins have different approaches to softball. Those differences parallel their personalities.

“Kate is very visionary and likes to have a mantra for every game, like ‘each ball counts,”‘ Janet said. “Caryl says, ‘You stand like this. You hold the bat and you hit the ball.”‘

Throughout the twins’ lives, Janet has kept a scrapbook full of her daughters’ accomplishments. The keepsake stays in her “scrapper room” back in Connecticut. And whenever she gets a chance, she praises their accomplishments.

“They never going to be rich,” Janet said. “But they’re so happy with what they do.”