Kara Lankey was key for La Cañada High girls' soccer

After the La Cañada High girls' soccer team placed a disappointing third in the Rio Hondo League this season, the Spartans' lone senior, Kara Lankey, would have been happy to be named a first-team player on the all-league list.

Lankey, a center defender, certainly didn't expect to be named the league's player of the year, but that's what happened.

"Generally, player of the year comes from one of the top teams that finish in our league," Lankey said. "I was very surprised when I heard, I didn't really know what to say. I was kind of speechless."

Not only was she selected for the league's top honor, but was the unanimous choice, Spartans Coach Louie Bilowitz said.

"I personally think it's unbelievable she was unanimously chosen when we finished third as a team," he said. "I have never seen it; it always comes from the top team."

That's not to say Lankey, who will play for Pacifica University — a NCAA Division III school in Oregon — next year isn't deserving.

"She's the strongest defender I've ever coached, with the exception of Colleen Boyd," said Bilowitz of his former goalie that went on to play for Oregon State University and now plays professionally for the Western New York Flash. "She was an All-American in college, just to be up there with Colleen is amazing. I've had some great defenders in my time, but Kara is just dominant."

It was a strange year for Lankey, who plays forward for her club team, and started the year as a midfielder before she was moved back to defense.

"I do like forward a little bit better because I like scoring," Lankey said. "I have the urge to go forward and shoot, but I can do whatever the coach wants me to do. I just went in with an open mind and was ready to learn whatever coach had to teach me."

Lankey was a part of a La Cañada defense that was highly decorated within league. Olivia Leyva earned first-team honors, along with Spartans forwards Megan Decker and Katrina Davis, after playing next to Lankey at the other center defender position.

Rosie Quezada (one goal, four assists) was one of two freshmen to be named a first- or second-teamer in Rio Hondo after playing right back on La Cañada's back line.

The Spartans, who went 11-5-3; 5-3-2 in league, had some rare offensive output from their center defenders. Lankey had seven goals and seven assists on the season, while Leyva added four scores and four helpers.

Leyva, who Bilowitz referred to as the best athlete on the team, helped the Spartans hold their Rio Hondo opposition to seven goals in 10 games.

"We gave up the fewest goals in league without a goalkeeper that's had experience or training, and that's because our defense in the middle was so strong with Kara and Olivia," Bilowitz said. "We gave up very few shots."

Decker, a sophomore forward who plays defense on her club squad, was the Spartans' leading offensive threat with 17 goals and 19 assists.

"I see her playing at a very top notch Division I school in the coming years," Lankey said of Decker. "I look at Megan and some of her goals and I'd think, 'How did she do that?'"

Davis, a forward, had 14 goals and five assists and was an equally impressive force on the offensive end this season.

"Our team had 61 goals this year and those two combined for 31 of them," Bilowitz said of his first-team players.

Brianna Albarian (four goals, six assists) and Cassandra Quiring (seven goals, 10 assists) earned honorable mention awards for the Spartans.andrew.shortall@latimes.com

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