When the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer team emerged as one of the top-10 teams in the nation two years ago, it was no surprise the Tologs — including their multi-talented defender Kayla Mills —hauled in a host of honors.
Highest among them for Mills was All-American status, which she received again this past season from the Elite Soccer Report. Her second-team selection is the third accolade Sacred Heart's senior leader has added to her resume from this past season.
"I am always surprised to receive such high awards like this," Mills said. "I am just blessed to have the opportunity.
"I was super happy [when I heard], obviously, and I am super thankful to God for all he's done for me."
While anchoring the Tologs back line and occasionally being pushed up for some instant offense, Mills tallied four goals and two assists. Her best work came on defense. The center-back led Sacred Heart to record nine shutouts and allowed just 17 goals in 21 contests. She received Mission League Most Valuable Player and All-CIF Southern Section Division I first-team awards in the process.
More than her lockdown, goal-scoring or play-making ability, Sacred Heart Coach Cesar Hidalgo lauded her leadership.
"She's a player that's going to give you 120 percent in everything she does and wherever she plays," Hidalgo said. "A player of that caliber to lead a team like FSHA, like she did last year was just special. She raises the level of everyone she plays with. She's a born leader and everyone looks up to her and tries to emulate her. She's a coach's dream."
Perhaps Mills' recent national honor is even more impressive this time around, considering the Tologs didn't come close to matching their 2010-11 campaign.
Two years ago, Sacred Heart went 23-2-1, 8-1-1 in league to win the Mission League and CIF championships. In 2013, it posted a 15-2-4 record and finished runner-up in league at 7-1-2 before falling in the first round of the playoffs.
"Honestly, it was [a surprise]. I thought the credit was going to be taken away from her because of us not going to the second round of CIF," Hidalgo said. "I wasn't expecting her to get all the awards she's getting, but again, she's an athlete that deserves everything she gets. Kayla is a winner, her tenacity and determination allows her to elevate her game and everyone around her. I think everyone sees that and rewards her for it."
While Mills admitted it's maybe a little more special be the only Tolog to be named an All-American again, she knows it may not be long before Sacred Heart has another All-American on its hands.
"Everyone is really good, I am just the one that got it this time," Mills said.
While the All-American distinction serves as a nice capper to Mills' high school career, she'll be in line for further awards with USC. That's where she'll report Aug. 6 for her next chapter, but just like at Sacred Heart, individual glory won't be what Mills is hunting for.
"To be honest, I just want to be a key part in helping USC get to where they're going to get to in the future, like the finals and NCAA championship," Mills said. "I want to be a key part in that and help in any way I can to further USC's success in whatever that may be. I want to grow and develop as a player more, I have a lot to work on so I am excited to work on that and develop."