Sophie and Macie Babo battled each other as soccer youngsters. Now they are an offense-defense combo leading Orono.
Sophie Babo is used to the attention.
Orono's stellar sophomore midfielder is rarely alone on the soccer field. A dominating offensive force since becoming a starter in seventh grade, Babo is a focal point of defenses wherever she roams, often marked by more than one player.
Not that it has mattered much. Rock-solid at 5-10 and with a devastating shot, she often finds the defensive presence around her to be little more than a nuisance.
It certainly hasn't kept her from scoring. In five games this year, she has 12 goals, adding to her ever-growing school record of 87.
Babo also owns the school career record for points (127 and counting) and single-season records for points (48), goals (31) and assists (17), all set in 2011.
Those numbers have earned her admirers across the nation. She already has two all-state awards to her credit, plays club soccer for the Minnesota Thunder Academy and has competed for various U.S. national teams. A shot at a roster spot on the U.S. Olympic team is not far-fetched.
But when talk turns to all of her success, Babo gives much of the credit to the one person who seems most inclined to deflect it: her older sister and teammate, Macie.
"I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for her," Sophie said. "She's one of the best defenders in the state, by far. Just going against her 1-on-1, year after year, is the best training you could have."
Macie, a senior defender who will play for the University of South Dakota next year, looks at all her younger sister has accomplished and feels nothing but pride.
"I don't need the publicity," she said. "I'm so proud of her. I'm one of her biggest fans."
There's a soccer field minutes away from the Babos' Maple Grove home. For Sophie and Macie, however, it's more than a field. It's a place where sweat has been poured, tempers lost, tears shed, skills developed. Perhaps importantly, it's where an unbreakable bond has been forged between the soccer-savvy sisters.
"When we were little, we would go practice up there and we were super competitive," Macie said. "It would always turn into one of us pushing each other down. Our parents had to keep us away from each other."
Those fierce battles are a thing of the past, but their influence is clearly evident whenever Orono takes the field.
The Spartans are 4-1 this season, their only loss coming against top-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret's on Saturday. The team is ranked No. 6 in Class 1A. Sophie has scored 12 of the Spartans' 19 total goals.
Macie's play, as a defender, is more difficult to quantify but, according to Orono coach Erin Murray, no less important to the team's success.
"She is an amazing leader," Murray said. "Rarely have I seen central defender so composed. She has impeccable timing and does a great job of keeping possession for our team."
As they have grown older, the Babo sisters have also grown closer. They leaned on each other when they left Heritage Academy, a small Christian school in Plymouth, in 2009. Macie was a freshman then and Sophie was a seventh-grader.
"Here we were, from a small private school going to a public school where we didn't know anyone," Macie said. "She was in the middle school building, but it helped just to know she was there."
Soccer provided the unifier. The Babos were accepted quickly, helping the Spartans to the 1A state championship that year. Both still cherish the memory.
"The best thing that has happened to us in soccer, by far, is winning in 2009," Sophie said.
They would love a repeat this year, which will be the last season in which they get to play together.
"It makes me cry just to think she'll be gone next year," Sophie said. "It would be great to win another in my sister's senior year. But if we don't, at least I can say we gave it our all and got to play together."