Rina Leonidas is determined to shine on the soccer field.
The sophomore has done just that for Lake Norman Charter this season, leading the young team in scoring and assists on their way to a No. 2 ranking at the 1A level.
"It's all because of my desire to help the team win," she said.
Leonidas, naturally a striker, was shifted more toward the center this season to play an attacking midfielder role for the Knights.
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From her new position, she's scored 14 goals and recorded 19 assists. Leonidas isn't concerned about having the ball at her feet, instead making quick strikes on goal and distributing it to her teammates, which she admits she takes pride in.
"I feel like if other people are scoring that boosts their self-esteem and that helps the team," she said.
Lake Norman Charter soccer coach Justin Valenti credits Leonidas' improvement to the maturity that comes with age, as she's grown faster and more aggressive.
"She's willing to work, to make that extra effort to win a ball," said Valenti, adding her knowledge of the sport has also boosted her game.
Leonidas has matured off the field as well, which prompted Valenti to name her one of the team's captains despite her youth.
"She's improved her attitude, her leadership," the coach said. "She's become more vocal. ... And that's changed the way she presents herself on the field."
Although only 15, Leonidas has plenty of on-the-field experience, having started playing soccer at age 5, following the footsteps of her father, Bill, who played in college before an injury derailed his career.
"I've always had a love for the game," said Leonidas, who also plays for North Meck Soccer Club year-round. "Going out and playing has always been really fun for me."
Lake Norman Charter, which only has one senior on its roster, started the year with a 13-3 record. Two of their losses came at the hand of strong soccer teams - last year's 2A runner up Forbush, which is ranked No. 1 in their division, and Hough, which is No. 7 in 4A.
Their third loss came in an upset by Cannon. Valenti said that game showed a weakness in his team.
"That's what we've been struggling with: 'Do we show up as a team or as individuals?'" he said. "Individually, with our talent pool, we can compete with any team in the area, but as a team we can be hit-or-miss, but I guess that comes with being young."
Leonidas agreed her team needs to be more consistent.
"We have to communicate and play together more," she said. "We have to do our parts as individuals to help the team."
Despite those struggles, the Knights have cruised through most of their schedule, outscoring their opponents 75-7 this season (as of April 28), facing a mix of private and public school teams.
"That's given us a better opportunity to grow as a team, to compete at a higher level," said Valenti.
The Knights have had help from freshman Riley Kane, who has 12 goals, and sophomore Carolina Sanchez, who's third in scoring with 10 goals. On goal, freshman Kelsey Garrison and Carolyn Huddy have also played well.
The team's marquee win of the year came in 2-1 game against Charlotte Country Day, the No. 2-ranked team in the state's 3A private school poll.
"That was a big accomplishment for us," said Leonidas.
Valenti said the way her team has played has shown that they've matured as a group, which also gives him confidence in the program's future.
Joining the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference next season, Valenti hopes his team will be able to continue to improve as they face more consistent competition.
The Knights' focus will be to outdo last year's trip to the 1A state semifinals and to compete for a state title.
"We could get there if we're able to work as a team," said Valenti. "If we don't, we have almost everyone back next year to reach that end goal."
Although it's still early, Leonidas said she hopes to play collegiate soccer.
Leonidas knows she has a lot of work ahead of her, having to improve on her touches and acceleration and other individual skills, but she's not afraid to do the work.
Her coach thinks she's capable of reaching that goal.
"She understands what she has to put on herself - and the team, for that matter-to help the team move in a positive direction," said Valenti. "That will translate to college."