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The playmaker

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Meghan Klingenberg used to hate soccer. When the Pine-Richland (Gibsonia, Pa.) senior was six, she wanted to quit her team.

"I was the worst girl on the team," she says. "I would come off the field crying, but I stuck with it because my dad was the coach."

By the time she was eight, however, soccer was Klingenberg's favorite sport. And by the time she turned 18, she was an All-American.

It's hard to imagine that Klingenberg, an NSCAA/adidas All-American who led Pine-Richland to WPIAL and state titles as a junior and a second consecutive WPIAL crown this last fall, was ever the worst player on her team. Now rated the state's No. 1 recruit and the nation's No. 8 player in the Class of 2007 by RISE, Klingenberg is undoubtedly one of the best players on the field whenever she plays, whether at the high school, club or national levels.

The turnaround can be attributed to Klingenberg's fiery spirit as much as her natural athletic gifts, of which she has many. Thanks to that potent combination, Klingenberg will next season head to the most storied program in women's college soccer, North Carolina, winner of 18 national titles.

UNC has long been Klingenberg's dream school, and the talented 5-foot-2 forward/midfielder is slowly working toward another one of her goals: playing for the United States in the Olympics and World Cup.

In early February, Klingenberg was invited to the Under-20 Women's National Team camp. There, she made an immediate impression on coach Jillian Ellis, who says Klingenberg finished first or second overall in a battery of fitness and athleticism tests by displaying top speed, a 25-inch vertical leap and an unceasing competitiveness.

"She is gifted athletically and quick with a great vertical for her size," says Ellis, who in addition to coaching the National Team completed her eighth season at the helm of the UCLA women's team in the fall. "Then you add to that her personal qualities: She is coachable, she is enthusiastic and she is competitive. You mold that into one player and you have a sparkplug."

That's high praise for a high school senior, but it's nothing new to Klingenberg. She and her fellow seniors at Pine-Richland started making a name for their class as fifth-graders. And each year, the buzz surrounding the Class of 2007 grew.

When they finally arrived at Pine-Richland, Klingenberg was named starting center midfielder right away. And in subsequent years, she moved out to the wing and up top; anywhere she was needed, really.

"Being able to put her in a variety of positions helped us create mismatches and played to our strengths as a team," says Pine-Richland coach Jodi Chmielewski. "If [opposing teams] only put one player on her, she was going to be able to beat them every time."

Early in her high school career, Klingenberg was expected to control the ball in the middle and make good passes to advance the attack. But halfway through her junior season, Chmielewski told her master playmaker the team needed more scoring. Klingenberg happily obliged.

She recorded six assists in the postseason and put a penalty kick in the back of the net in the PIAA semifinals, helping the Rams ride an unexpected wave of momentum all the way to the Class AAA state championship game.

There they faced Owen J. Roberts, which at the time was the nation's No. 1 team in the NSCAA/adidas rankings. Expectations weren't high for Pine-Richland, but in the first half Klingenberg set up the only goal the Rams would need to win. Klingenberg took a Roberts player on and beat her down the sideline, then made a deft cut before the end line, crossing the ball right in front of the net to Akron-bound teammate Jordan Baranowski, who drilled it home for the game's only score.

"Winning the state championship was very surprising," says Klingenberg. "We were all extremely elated because we were the underdogs going into it. Beating the No. 1 team in the country was just such an awesome feeling."

Klingenberg and the Rams entered the 2006 campaign determined to capture that feeling again. It would be the last season together for the much-heralded senior class -- which also includes Baranowski and Miami of Ohio-bound Kelsie Murray -- and nothing short of winning another state title would satisfy the talented group.

Pine-Richland seemed plenty capable of repeating, starting the season 22-0 and capturing the WPIAL title. Klingenberg, playing mostly up top, scored 22 goals and added 14 assists on the season.

But just as the Rams had played the role of spoiler for Owen J. Roberts a season earlier, Mt. Lebanon upset heavily favored Pine-Richland in the PIAA playoffs. The team was crushed, Klingenberg in particular.

"We were all extremely heartbroken," she says. "It was the biggest disappointment ever."

But Klingenberg has since managed to put the loss in its proper perspective, framing it in a positive light as a lesson learned. "If it wasn't for losing, then winning wouldn't feel so great," she says. "Disappointment helps you become a better winner in the long run."

The ability to learn from setbacks and work even harder with that knowledge in mind is one of the things that makes Klingenberg such a good player.

"What I really enjoy about Meghan is that she's a sponge," says Ellis. "She wants to learn and she's willing to apply the information you give her to her game. She's going to work her tail off to give herself the best opportunity."

How else can you explain Klingenberg's transformation from worst girl on the field to best in the state?