Chesapeake’s Haley Downin delivers a pitch against Linganore during the Class 3A state semifinal at Bachman Park(Terrance Williams / Capital Gazette)
Chesapeake Haley Downin (4) slips by Northeast Taylor Stahl (9) during a Class 3A East Region Section II girls soccer semifinal between Northeast and Chesapeake.(Daniel Kucin Jr. / Capital Gazette)
Chesapeake basketball coach Maria Gray attended a summer basketball league on a Tuesday night in mid-June, on the hunt for the next Haley Downin.
Of course, Downin won’t be so easily replaced.
The Capital Gazette Newspapers’ Female Athlete of the Year closed out her Cougars career after leading the soccer and basketball teams to the Class 3A East semifinals and the softball team to a regular season county title, a county championship game crown and a runner-up finish in the Class 3A state final.
Downin amassed 24 points in the fall, surpassed 1,000 in the winter and struck out 173 batters in the spring.
“My goal for each sport was to improve each year and get better,” Downin said, “in pitches or in soccer, scoring more goals, scoring more points for my position for each team and I feel like I did that.”
Though she committed to play Division II basketball and softball at Wilmington (Del.) University early, Downin never once considered taking the lazy course through her senior year.
“Maybe it’s because I am going to college to play sports, but to me, senior year isn’t a relax year,” she said. “To me, it’s still important. I want to do the best I possibly can no matter what. I still put in 120 percent no matter what, even if it is just the last year of high school.”
That began with soccer.
Cougars coach Kevin Keeter, who’d known Downin since she was young, was pleased when she made an immediate impact after choosing to play soccer her junior year.
With a season of play behind her, Downin surpassed the previous fall’s accomplishments completely. The first-team All-County selection led the Cougars in goals (14) and assists (10).
“In her senior year, she looked for her shot a little more,” Keeter said. “She looked to create some space, and she also got her teammates involved.”
All the while, Downin relied on her softball workout program, which added speed into her running game in soccer.
“All the sports help each other,” she said. “You’re definitely doing a lot more arm stuff in softball, which helps in shooting for basketball.”
Her needing to side-step swiftly when she played shortstop fed her ability to change direction on a dime on the basketball court, Gray said. Those hawk-eye pursuits of the ball’s location on the floor translated to the soccer field, Keeter said, as well as her “competitive drive” in softball, which made it easy for Downin to get her touch down quickly come the fall season.
Gray had also known Downin since her youth days, and because of it knew how prosperous the driven athlete would become.
“I know she’s worked hard,” Gray said. “Basketball is a learned sport for a lot of girls and she put the time in. She just perfected her craft, her shot, her defense.”
Everybody fretted, Gray recalled, about the strength of the Cougars’ offense when it lost another quadruple-digit scorer in Brooke Worrell after Downin’s junior year.
Downin calmed those fears pretty quickly. She continued to hone her craft in the offseason, as she always had.
“She would shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot,” Gray said. “When the opportunity opened up her senior year, that we needed to rely on her from a scoring capacity, she just literally took the ball and ran with it.”
Downin was second in the county with 17.4 points per game, including seven 20-plus point games this winter. She proved as reliable on the foul line, shooting with 74 percent accuracy.
Her name will be in the Chesapeake record books until the Cougars unearth another Downin down the road. She set the school marks for 3-pointers in a career (175), 3-pointers in a season (65), 3-pointers in a game (nine), career steals (291), steals in a season (88) and steals in a game (seven).
Quiet and by example: that’s how Gray would characterize Downin’s brand of leadership.
Her most remarkable stat as a basketball player is the most oft-overlooked — the defensive deflection, which she led the Cougars in with 3.5 per game.
“That can be a game-changer,” Gray said. “You’re causing the ball to come out of the defender’s hands and creating opportunities for us to get the ball in transition.”
During practices, Downin set challenges for herself. For instance, in basketball, she’d aim to connect a certain number of free throws.
Her stoicism during play accounted for, that didn’t mean Downin maintained a stony personality for her teammates. “Weird, but in a good way,” her softball teammate Kexin Wang described Downin.
“She’s the one who’s the most tenacious in practice, and yet, she’s also having fun,” Gray said. “She’s not ever the type to goof off, but yet, if there’s a moment for her to dance in between running a drill, she’s the one to do it.”
By the time the spring season rolled around, Downin had spent eight months chasing balls down grass and hardwood, which supplied power and endurance to her legs. She pitched 130 2/3 innings this season and also had 45 hits for a .511 batting average.
“Her numbers in basketball prove that her junior and season year of basketball were unbelievable,” softball coach Don Ellenberger said. “Each of those continued over into softball because all she did was run.”
Downin garnered Capital Gazette softball Player of the Year honors this spring after setting 13 school records, eight of which belonged to U.S. National Team member and former Chesapeake star Lauren Gibson, and a Maryland high school state mark.
Of course, another reason Downin compiled such an exceptional statistical school year was because she was always out on the field, on the court or in the circle, and not nursing an injury on the sidelines.
For that, she credits her three sports. The National Federation of State High School Associations detailed in a 2018 report that while ACL surgeries are up 60 percent in 6- to 18-year-olds in the past two decades, injuries occur at a dramatically lower rate in multi-sport athletes.
“When you’re playing a different sport, you’re working out different muscles so nothing’s ever really super tight,” Downin said. “I feel like a lot of college coaches are like ‘I want only their main focus to be on one sport’ but at my school, my coach is like ‘I’m happy you play more than one sport. I want a well-rounded athlete, not just a softball player.’ ”
With time to reflect, what stood out the most to Downin about her last year in softball wasn’t her 18 wins or the four losses.
It was the bus rides, where she and her teammates hyped each other up to the music. It was the crop of freshmen that donned Chesapeake softball uniforms this spring, impressing Downin with their maturity.
She experienced the same joys during soccer.
“I had a freshman striker along my side,” Downin said. “All the freshmen coming in that are so talented that we get to play with, that look up to us, for all sports. Having them come in with a good attitude was really, really nice.”
She’ll be the freshman now, Downin has to remind herself. She catches herself when she starts looking forward to the high school season rolling back around; she’s a college athlete now, and with that, comes a whole new set of teammates.
“I’m looking forward to meeting new people, finding a new family,” Downin said. “My teams will become a new family. I’m looking forward to starting softball at the next level.”
But for the coaches whose goodbyes to Downin are tinged with melancholy, they know their three-sport standout will never truly be replaced.
“What Chesapeake’s going to miss is her work ethic,” Keeter said. “Her leading by example. Being the captain and being a great teammate, great player and a role model.”
Female Athletes of the Year
1986: Missy Spicer, South River
1987: Beth McMahon, Spalding
1988: Jill Moore, Severna Park
1989: Jenny Parsons, Glen Burnie
1990: Kelly Archambo, Southern
1991: Tina Riley, Severna Park
1992: Randall Goldsborough, St. Mary’s
1993: Stephanie Roberts, Severna Park
1994: Cristi Samaras, Annapolis
1995: Kristin Nicolini, Annapolis
1996: Kate Graw, Severn
1997: Lindsey Lowman, Southern
1998: Tiffany Schummer, St. Mary’s
1999: Meredith McAlister, Severna Park
2000: Kim Lawton, Severna Park
2001: Karen Kotofski, Northeast
2002: Lauren Centrowitz, Broadneck
2003: Mary Key, St. Mary’s
2004: Jess Adam, Severn
2005: Amanda Spinnenweber, Chesapeake
2006: Amanda Spinnenweber, Chesapeake
2007: Julie Gardner, Severna Park
2008: Kourtney Salvorala, Broadneck
2009: Brooke Griffin, South River
2010: Brooke Griffin, South River
2011: Maggie Morrison, Spalding
2012: Alexis Franklin, Old Mill
2013: Taylor Bresnahan, South River
2014: Rachel Vander Kolk, Severna Park
2015: Reilly Wagner, South River
2016: Maria Coffin, Annapolis
2017: Maria Coffin, Annapolis
2018: Haley Downin, Chesapeake
2019: Haley Downin, Chesapeake