Melissa 'Mo' Downs
Dec. 15, 1999
Describing Melissa Downs as versatile would be gross understatement.
Watching her at a Husky softball practice over the years has been like watching a kid trying out for a team. She works her way around the infield, starting at third base and finishing at first, usually touching all points in between and even spending some time behind the plate. Her amazingly soft, quick hands vacuum up every ball in front of her with effortless fluidity. Her natural reactions make it nearly impossible to get a ball past her. She is so smooth and consistent at every position, you would never be able to predict where she will actually play come game time.
The one flaw in using versatile to describe Downs, the senior from Bothell, Wash., and known to all as "Mo", is that Webster's definition includes the word "ease". Though she plays the game with an apparent ease, her journey to success--from walk-on to All-Pac-10 performer--has certainly been less than easy.
Downs could have taken the easy way out. She could have taken the safe route, guaranteeing herself success at any Division II school, but Mo Downs wanted to challenge herself. Asked to walk on to the Husky softball team, she knew her road to the lineup would be difficult, but she did not know just how much of a challenge she was inviting.
"When you get out of high school, you think you know how to play the game. When you come here, you find out you don't know anything," Downs admits, referring to the tremendous learning experience that occurs in the Husky softball program. "I definitely had second thoughts."
Yet, being the versatile player she is, it was impossible for Downs to get lost among a team that had so many upper-class superstars, as often times happens with young players. Instead, Downs was always on the field, or contributing somewhere...whether it was stepping in at any infield position and not missing a beat or catching the pitchers and sharing her vast knowledge of the game. Downs simply made it impossible for the Husky coaches to ignore her talent. Though she played in just 15 games her first two years, she persisted, slowly built confidence, and waited for her big break.
That break finally came last season in her junior year. As expected, the season started with much juggling of positions, with Downs seeing time at both first and third base. But when freshman Jenny Topping went down with a season-ending knee injury, Downs finally got her chance to play full-time. She wasted no time in proving her mettle and has never looked back. She batted .500 in her first 10 games (13 for 26) and knocked in seven runs, collecting big hit after big hit. Over the course of the season she proved her consistency, striking out just nine times in 179 at-bats.
Being probably the most respected and well-liked player on the team, it was simply a joy for her teammates to watch Mo play as she did and to see her hard work pay off. One of the nicest people you will ever meet with not a single bad thing to say about another human, Downs quietly and patiently waited for her chance, never complaining, and now has deservedly earned the respect as one of the most feared hitters in the Pac-10.
Mo finished the season as the Huskies' third-leading hitter with a .313 batting average, good enough to earn All-Pac-10 honorable mention. Not surprisingly, she was just as consistent in the field, finishing with a .990 fielding percentage. It was her performance in the College World Series, however, that proved she was the "real deal." Although she humbly concedes she was "just seeing the ball really well", Downs showed off her knack of rising to the occasion, batting .400 in the four World Series games, leading the Huskies to within a single run of a national championship and collecting All-College World Series honors along the way.
Now, it is Downs' responsibility, along with the five other seniors, to lead the Huskies back to that championship game...but this time to win. Now that she has proven herself as a clutch player, it would seem as if there would be added pressure on her. Certainly, it is just another challenge Mo will meet and conquer as she has grown accustomed to doing.
"I don't want it to be a one-year fluke, so there is some pressure," said Mo. "But I just enjoy being out there so much. I have enough fun just being out on the field with my teammates."
Nowadays, just being on the field is not the question, it's figuring out which of the nine positions she should be patrolling that is the challenge. Downs is equally as entertained with her versatility as the next person. "It's fun being moved around a lot. It keeps me from getting bored at practice because I'm always doing something," Mo said. "It also helps me be a better player because I always know where everyone else is supposed to be at certain times because I've played there."
As she leads her team to another successful season, she will do so as she always has: leading quietly by example and having--and creating--a lot of fun doing it. Downs has always been best at lightening the mood with her sharp sense of humor. Acknowledging Downs' humor as her true talent, Coach Teresa Wilson told Downs before the season that her role was "to keep everyone loose", a role she has gladly accepted.
Of all the challenges the versatile Mo Downs has had to overcome since coming to Washington, this one definitely will be done, to borrow a word from Webster, with ease.