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Simone Kolander

The basement in their home isn't quite finished, but when it is the Kolanders already have plenty to put on display.

"It's going to be quite the sports shrine down there," said Simone Kolander, noting the achievements of her parents, both former Gophers athletes.

They might want to make a little more room for her, too.

Infatuated with soccer since an early age, Kolander, a junior at Lakeville North, took to the sport almost immediately.

"My mom loves soccer and put me in it right away," she said. "I loved it, and I always knew I wanted to do it at the highest level."

In the 12 or so years since, Kolander has morphed into a dominant player who gets a foot into almost any play. Heading into the girls' soccer state tournament this week, the 6-1 Kolander leads the Class 2A, No. 1-seeded Panthers with 21 goals and 27 assists. It's an output that makes her the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year.

Kolander's impressive statistics go beyond her line in the boxscore.

"When all the attention is on her, it makes everyone else's game easier," first-year coach Josh Linde said. "It allows us to attack with numbers, and that's essential."

Kolander, who verbally committed to Minnesota this fall, is the star. But five others on Lakeville North's roster have at least five goals so far in the Panthers' undefeated season (17-0-2).

"We knew we had the potential to be doing what we are right now, but I don't think we ever thought we'd be this successful," Kolander said.

Success was in the cards for Kolander from the beginning.

"I definitely like having my parents be former athletes," she said of Chad, a basketball player, and Natalie, a soccer player. "They know exactly what to tell me afterward. I don't always like it; I can't get away with much. But how they do it is in a good way. They push me hard but never yell."

Also a Lakeville North basketball player, Kolander decided to focus on soccer when she realized her height -- average on the basketball court -- could be an advantage.

"I'm not the crazy, bulldozing-through-everybody kind of player; I look a lot scarier than I am," she said. "But I definitely work [my height] into it."

Combined with what Linde calls Kolander's "work rate," it's an often unstoppable concoction, even when teams throw their best at her.

Kolander has paid the price. She has been tackled like a safety on a wide receiver, Linde said. But more often than not, it turns into a losing game of tag for opponents.

"Her willingness to ... never give up on a play has really made a huge impact for our team," Linde said.

"When she's in there trying to scrap for the ball, she can really reach and has enough strength to be explosive even at full stretch. It almost makes her unfair at times."

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