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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Full of encouragement

Steve Christilaw Correspondent

Alissa Lanker is the quintessential teammate.

In an era where individuality is celebrated in team sports, where chest pounding is commonplace, the University senior revels in the shared experience of everything “team.”

A starter on both the volleyball and basketball teams – and co-captain of the latter along with Jamie Bjorklund – Lanker is the kind of athlete who cares not a whit about her own personal statistics, so long as the team wins.

“For whatever reason, for me, it’s not about the individual success of it all,” she said. “To me, that’s not fun.

“Even when you’re down, it’s great to have team support. I’m kind of the encourager or sort of a pump-‘em-up person. So it’s my role to build up the girls and come together as a team and support each other. I love that.”

University girls basketball coach Mark Stinson has a name for that kind of player: Old school.

“Kids are growing up in an age where you want to get your face on (ESPN’s) SportsCenter,” Stinson said. “In that sense, she’s kind of a throwback. She’s an old-school player. She always puts her team first. I’m sure that’s how her parents raised her.

“It’s just fun to be around that kind of a person and I’m sure it’s fun to play with another player who is that kind of a person. That’s not to say that the rest of the team isn’t that way, but Alissa is the kind of a kid who you can easily spot and say ‘That kid really cares and puts her teammates first – before any accolades come her way.’ “

At first look, it’s interesting that Lanker immersed herself in team sports. Her mother, Linda Lanker, is U-Hi’s boys cross country coach, coached Valley Christian to multiple State B track championships and coaches hurdlers at Spokane Community College.

“She definitely is a team player – she’ll put the team ahead of herself every time,” her mother said. “I did coach her (in track) when she was a freshman (at Valley Christian). But even then, she gravitated toward the relays.

“Her heart has always been where she enjoys being part of something, but she doesn’t have to be the star. She’s not out there looking for that type of recognition. I’m so proud of her – just the kind of kid she is. I don’t know where she came from.”

On an undefeated basketball team, Lanker is an enthusiastic role player.

“She is, and a role player is really hard to define,” Stinson said. “Every team is different, so you can’t really build a box and put someone in it and say ‘You’re the role player.’ She scores a little more than a typical role player, she’s a great defender – and we put her on some tough players. And we have a lot of confidence in her shooting skills and her offensive game.

“On other teams she might be the go-to girl, but on this team we have a lot of players who can shoot the ball. I think she defers to them, but at the same time she doesn’t pass up her own shot when it’s a good, team shot.

“She’s been a joy to coach and I know her teammates just love her.”

Lanker has a perspective on basketball rare in the state of Washington, having played in both the State B tournament at the Spokane Arena and the State 4A tournament in Seattle.

“It’s funny. Those two experiences are the opposite sides of the spectrum, but I really didn’t feel that different in each experience,” she said. “At Valley Christian, our goals were the same as they’ve been at U-Hi: to work hard and have fun, try your best and support each other.”

As a freshman, Lanker stepped up in the Arena, filling in for the team’s ailing point guard and shining on the big stage.

Making the transition from tiny Valley Christian to U-Hi her sophomore year was daunting – in fact, she was told she could forget about playing at a Class 4A school.

“She was told that back when she was a freshman,” Linda Lanker said. “They told her ‘You won’t be able to play Class 4A.’ I think her attitude is ‘Wanna make a bet?’ “

The career support player has taken center stage in one arena: she’s University’s Lilac Princess and will compete with the area’s 13 other schools for the honor of being queen of the Lilac Festival – a big step for someone most comfortable in a warm-up suit and basketball shoes.

“It is a bit of a switch,” Lanker laughed. “But it’s been fun doing it because it is so different. It’s been fun working with my mom – she’s had to help me find the right kind of clothes to wear and everything. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

You can bet that when the rest of the princesses get together, Lanker will be in the middle of things, urging everyone ever onward – the same way she encourages her basketball and volleyball teammates.

“I just love to help people – to be there for them,” she said. “Because that’s the kind of person I am naturally, I try to take on that role within the team. Every team needs different kinds of people. I’m the kind of person who encourages and tries to build the team up.

“I’ve been so lucky. Every team I’ve been on has been just an awesome experience. The players have been great and I’ve had some terrific coaches. I have been so blessed.”

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