No one ever told Lauren Molinaro about the sophomore slump.
Maybe that's because even her soccer coaches have a hard time remembering that Molinaro just turned 15.
"She's always played with older kids, so we have a tendency to forget she's still a baby in this sport. She handles herself so well," said Roy Andersch, an assistant coach for Molinaro's club team, the Under-17 Columbia Spirit.
In fact, Molinaro already has boosted her game to national prominence by earning a spot in the Olympic Development Program's national pool of under-16 players.
"Theoretically, that makes her one of the top 25 players in that age group in the country. It is a very prestigious honor," said Andersch.
On the high school level, few can compete consistently with Molinaro's well honed ball-control skills. She has scored nine goals and assisted on five for No. 3 Centennial, 15-0 going into tonight's Class 3A/4A regional title game against Linganore.
But statistics cannot convey fully Molinaro's worth to the Howard County champion Eagles. Their midfield catalyst, she usually makes the transition move that results in a shot two or three passes down the line.
"Lauren's in the middle of everything and she makes things happen for us," said stopper Shara Boonshaft, a senior team captain. "She's the one who starts our offense. It's amazing how she can trap it and bring it down so well. She seems to be able to hold onto it even in a crowd of three or four people."
The only thing that has slowed Molinaro since her family moved to Columbia from Kent County five years ago is a knee disorder, patella-femoral syndrome. The condition, which causes pain around the kneecap, forced her to the sidelines for about a month last spring.
"That doesn't sound like a lot," she said, "but it makes a difference."
Her endurance level suffered from the time off and she now wears a knee brace. But Molinaro did not lose any ground on the competition. She came back over the summer and made the national pool.
Her climb to the national level began with her move to Columbia. Until then, she had played only on coed teams. Once she made her first travel team, the Columbia Cougars, as an eighth grader, Molinaro got better and better.
In four years of Olympic Development play, Molinaro has made the regional pool every time, first at under-13, twice at under-14 and now at under-16. She has no plans to stop there.
Molinaro still cannot get enough soccer.
"People tell me all the time that if you play too much, you're gonna hate it, but I love it," said Molinaro. "A lot of my friends who don't play don't understand. They say all you do is kick the ball. But if you look into it, there's so much you can do. There's so many different moves, so many styles of play, so many kinds of shots.
"Right now, my knowledge of the game is very little. There's still a lot more I can learn. It's a lot of fun because every time I step on the field I learn something new."
"Here's a kid who's one of the best players around and she works as hard or harder than anyone," said Centennial coach Dave Greenberg. "She makes the team better, because when you see the most talented kid bust, you're gonna bust."
Andersch, who has coached a number of national pool players, said Molinaro's dedication could be the most important factor in keeping her among the nation's best players as she moves up through the age groups.
"I've seen girls achieve a lot of success at an early age," said Andersch. "Then they think they're where they need to be and they don't pursue making themselves better at the same pace they were earlier. I don't think Lauren will fall into that trap."