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Lexi Steele had never known life without athletics.

Soccer and basketball had always been as present as autumn, winter and spring for as long as she could remember. But high school graduation this spring, the end of her all-state sessions at Missoula Sentinel, provided a natural breaking point in the relationship.

Did she really want to keep playing?

"Maybe I'd do just school, because I've never not done sports," she remembered thinking as friends and classmates decided on their next steps for college.

Her sporting hiatus didn't last long, though.

"I woke up one morning and ya know what? No, I'm not done," she said. "I've got a couple more years in me."

Late in the game, Steele latched back on with Carroll College, one of her top choices prior to this spring's soul-searching. She committed June 1 to join the Saints' basketball team come winter and work out with the soccer team in the spring, too.

But first, she got a chance to play both sports in Helena -- one (or two) last stab at the games as a high school star.

Steele competed in hoops in the Big Sky State Games last weekend and will next represent western Montana in the Shodair Soccer Classic this Saturday.

The women's all-star contest begins at 5 p.m. with the men's to follow around 7 at Carroll's Nelson Stadium.

***

Despite her inclusion in the all-star soccer game this summer, Steele is probably best known for her exploits on the hardwood.

She was part of Sentinel's stretch of three straight State AA basketball championships from 2012-14, a starter at point guard for the latter two while one of the first two players off the bench as a freshman on the former.

"Lexi was huge; she's just tough as nails," said Sentinel basketball coach Karen Deden. "She was a lot like Liv (Olivia Roberts) and Maddie (Keast) in the sense that they can play with kids who are stronger and they play stronger."

Roberts and Keast each spring-boarded their time in purple and gold into NCAA Division-I college scholarships -- Roberts at Wyoming and Keast with the Lady Griz -- but Deden will argue her more petite point guard played just as crucial a role in the Sentinel dynasty.

"Liv played like she was 6-2. Lexi played like she was 5-9," Deden said.

Like sports, short-stature living is another constant companion for Steele. She's 5-foot-4 -- with shoes on -- and near the shortest player on most of those Sentinel teams.

Luckily she had speed and strength to fall back on.

"I feel like when you're this small, you have to find things you're good at and keep growing at them," she said.

Steele averaged 4.1 points per game as a junior with 3.8 assists on a team full of future college players, but became the only senior with varsity experience on the 2014-15 squad. She scored 5.7 ppg with 3.8 apg and grew into the team's second-leading rebounder at 4.2 rpg.

But she scored when needed, leading the Spartans with 22 points in a win at Great Falls CMR early in the season.

"With Lexi at the helm, they were able to bring out their best and not make those freshman mistakes you'd normally see," Deden said of Steele's leadership amid the next generation of Spartan stars like Shannon Worster (sophomore), Jordyn Schweyen (freshman) and Kylie Frohlich (freshman).

Steele, on the other hand, is just as quick to credit Deden's work for Sentinel's 19-5 record and another trip to state.

"Deden is just an amazing coach. She can coach any team you give her," Steele said, before turning her attention to the championship outlook of the still-young Spartan squad. "They should definitely be in that Saturday night game sometime soon."

***

Steele notched a pair of goals and two assists for Sentinel's state-bound soccer team last fall, but primarily used her speed to help set up the Spartans' three other offensive threats -- underclassmen Libby Walker, Brittany Delridge and Sydnie Steele.

Syd, of course, is Lexi's sister, two years her junior.

Syd got a handful of minutes coming up from JV during the basketball season, but their time together in the fall on the pitch really marked the end of their joint playing days, Lexi said.

Until she decided to try track.

The elder Steele, having never done the sport, went out for her senior season and expected to be a thrower. She's compact and powerful, she said, perfect to huck a javelin or discus.

Instead Lexi ended up on Sentinel's 400-meter relay team, one of the top four fastest sprinters covering 100 meters. And guess who else was on said relay foursome.

"We did our times and we were on the same relay team!" Lexi said of sister Syd, whom Lexi would give the nod to in a one-on-one race. "The highlight of my high school career was running track my senior year with my sister and my two cousins, (Cy Steele and Alec Steele)."

Though the state golds and bronze -- Sentinel took third in soccer her freshman year -- were nice, it was a perfect way to end a high school career, Lexi added. Now her time at Carroll is just on the horizon.

The school fits her perfectly. It has both basketball and soccer opportunities, a music program and seems to be the perfect size for her liking. Plus good grades loaded the student-athlete up with academic scholarship money.

The only major thing on her crammed calendar before college is this week's Shodair Classic, a game in which Steele will team up with five Helena High girls for the first time since the Bengals eliminated the Spartans at last year's state soccer tourney.

After the Shodair comes a chance to rest. And one last two-week stretch to spend with her family in Missoula.

"I've been out of town more than I've been in town this summer," she laughed.

Sounds like good practice for that busy upcoming college slate.

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