In the Northridge house she shares with four of her teammates, the captain of the Cal State Northridge women's volleyball team ripped down the wallpaper in her bedroom and on one wall spelled out in wallpaper glue the words, "CAPTAIN KAREN."
"The wallpaper had ships on it," she joked, "so I guess this is the captain's quarters."
Karen Lontka, a senior from Redondo Beach, is known among her teammates for her dry wit, but Coach Walt Ker considers her one of the most intense players on the team.
He named her captain because of the leadership ability she showed last spring. Lontka was watching videotapes of last year's team, Ker said, when she noted the competitiveness of All-Americans Heather Hafner and Shelli Mosby, who have both graduated.
"She said, 'I wonder who's going to do that this year,' " Ker said. "I told her somebody would emerge. And in a tournament the next weekend, she just turned it on.
"I told her, 'I think somebody's emerged.' "
Lontka, who was captain of El Camino's state JC championship team in 1983, said that assuming a leadership role actually goes against her low-key personality.
"I'm not the greatest person with responsibility," she said.
Ker, though, said Lontka has warmed to the role.
"It goes against her grain a little bit," he said, "but since she's viewed it as something that the team needs, she's been willing to accept that as part of her responsibility for improving the team."
Lontka said she takes pride in being the captain. "I don't show it a lot except in the time I put in and the effort," she said.
Lontka almost didn't make it to CSUN. The day after she signed a letter of intent, she tore up her left knee in a volleyball class at El Camino.
But Ker said he never considered rescinding the scholarship offer.
"I guess I had a lot of faith in modern science," he said.
Lontka redshirted in 1984 after having surgery on the knee, but returned last season to help CSUN win the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship and reach the final match of the NCAA tournament.
Her .410 attacking percentage led the team and she was an honorable mention All-American.