By Jessica Bernheim
UMBC Assistant Director of Athletic Communications
Before UMBC freshman Zach Linkous arrived on campus last fall, his older sister, Meagan, a senior, prepared a list of suggested courses for her younger brother to take.
"She had a list of five pages of classes I should take with a paragraph about each teacher," Zach laughed.
But Zach was able to benefit from another shared bond with his sister – UMBC lacrosse. Meagan is a co-captain and four-year starter on defense for the Retriever women's team, while Zach, a midfielder, is in his first year on the men's squad.
So like any college freshman with an older sibling at the same university, Zach was able to go to Meagan when he didn't know anyone on the first day of school. But Meagan is also uniquely qualified to give him advice on adjusting to life as a Division I student-athlete.
"I told him it seems like a lot at first, just having to deal with all your school work and practice, but once you get adjusted to it, it's a lot easier," Meagan said. "Just make sure you do your work, because it's easy to get behind. And with lacrosse, just go out there and try your best and don't get frustrated at first."
Believe it or not, the Linkouses are not the only UMBC lacrosse brother-sister combination, as they are joined in that distinctive group by J.D. and Jessica Harkey. While the Harkeys have had more time together on campus – J.D. is a fifth-year senior defensive midfielder, while Jessica is a junior defender – they went through the same situations just a few years ago.
"I remember my freshman year, adjusting was really hard," Jessica said. "Lacrosse was a lot more competitive than in high school, so having him here as a support system was really cool. It was easy just to call him up. And it was also cool aside from lacrosse to be able to have him, because I felt like I was already close with some of his friends too, so it was nice to already be a little more acclimated."
"When you're younger, you're coming from high school where you're probably a big contributor on your team. Then you come to college and everybody's coming from the same situation," J.D. said. "So I just said go hard the whole time and don't worry about getting yelled at or making mistakes. That will come with experience."
Both Meagan and J.D. were excited when their younger siblings considered UMBC during the recruiting process, but both also made sure to give unbiased advice to help Zach and Jessica make the best choice for themselves.
"Pretty early on in her process she was looking here and talking to coaches, and I told her if she wanted to come here it'd be great, I'd enjoy it, but to definitely look around and make sure she checked out all her options and decide this was definitely the place for her," J.D. said.
"I told him he should pick a school he likes, not just base it off lacrosse," Meagan said. "But make sure you like the team because you're with them all the time."
Zach and Jessica each said they didn't know much about UMBC until their older siblings enrolled in the university, but after visiting them a few times and attending their games, they began to think it could be the place for them, as well.
"Then when I got in touch with the coaches, it just sort of sealed the deal because J.D. was here," Jessica said.
Both the Linkouses and the Harkeys agree that the shared bond of playing lacrosse at the same school has brought them closer to their siblings.
"We can just hang out and have brother-sister time," Meagan said. "And just being able to watch each other play, I don't think a lot of siblings get to do that when they go to different schools."
"We didn't get to go to high school together because I decided to go to a private school," Zach said. "So it's pretty cool to actually go to school together again. I can call her if I need anything."
Meagan attended North Harford High School in Pylesville, Md., while Zach opted for St. Paul's School in Baltimore County.
While they say that seeing each other too much can sometimes lead to natural sibling fights, they do appreciate having the built-in support system, which can work both ways. While Meagan and J.D. helped their younger brother and sister adjust to college, Zach and Jessica have been there for their older siblings through some tough injuries, as J.D. tore his ACL in 2009, while Meagan missed the early part of the 2011 season, as well.
"You have all your friends and your teammates, but having somebody that's known you your whole life definitely is an extra bit of support there, and it gives a different perspective, too," J.D. said.
"I think it's because they understand and you can talk on a more personal level than you might be able to with your teammates," Meagan added. "Your teammates will help you, but he's there for me emotionally."
Having children on two teams that often play at the same time in different locations has created logistical issues for both sets of parents. The Linkouses usually split up, with one parent at Meagan's game and the other at Zach's, and they text throughout the contest to keep up with how the other is doing. And if the Harkeys see the Linkouses at one game, they check in to find out what is going on in the other.
The Harkeys have even tougher logistics to deal with, as J.D. and Jessica have two other sisters who also play collegiate lacrosse – Meghan is a senior at Christopher Newport, a Division III school in Virginia Beach, while Shannon is a freshman at the University of Florida. Moreover, the Harkeys' home base of Purcellville, Va., is about 90 minutes from Catonsville, so even Retriever home games require extended travel time.
"The spring is a little hectic for them," Jessica said. "Every Christmas we make my dad a calendar. It's color-coordinated to everybody's games, and they pick out the games they're going to go to. Sometimes if we have a Friday night game, they'll go from my game to J.D.'s the next day, then fly down to see Shannon. It's crazy, but they love it."
Some of those issues were made slightly easier when the Retrievers played the Gators in February and Jessica, a defender, played against Shannon, an attack, for the first time ever.
"She got in for the last 15 minutes or so, and when I saw her coming into the sub box, I told one of my teammates to switch (defensive assignments) with me and I went and played on her," Jessica said. "My parents took a lot of pictures. We've always been teammates, so it was our first time playing against each other. It was definitely a really cool experience."
The siblings always attend each other's home games when their own schedules allow, and J.D. says watching his sister play gives the game more context.
"I'll watch their whole game, but if something happens with Jessie I get fired up a bit more," he said with a smile. "A couple weeks ago, one of the refs called something on Jessie and I didn't quite agree so I was yelling a little bit."
His sister echoed similar sentiments. "When they played Towson (April 6), it was a really good game, and when J.D. scored I was freaking out," she laughed. "It was his second goal ever, so I was jumping up and down and everyone in the stands was looking at me funny, but I was like, 'that's my brother!' I get really excited.
"I guess we can all say the same thing – we get really excited for each other when we see each other doing well," she added. "It's just cool to be able to watch each other play. It's hard to play a sport in college to begin with, and it's really cool that we get to do it together."