Three years ago, Creston head track coach took then freshman Chelcee Downing along to the Co-ed State Track Meet as an alternate for one of the Panthers’ state-qualifying relay teams.
“I took her up there as an alternate her freshman year so she could see exactly what it was like,” Arnold said. “She came back the next year and was in two (events), last year in one.”
There’s a decent chance Downing could find herself running in one or two more relays at next week’s Co-ed State Track Meet as a senior.
That, combined with a breakout senior campaign on the basketball court, as well as two years of playing volleyball and soccer, along with one year each of cross country and softball, has earned Downing the honor of being Creston High School’s 2014 Most Outstanding Female Athlete.
“She has way more accolades than anyone else,” Arnold said. “For four years, she’s been a staple in all of our sprint relays. Been a part of a lot of great team titles, conference placewinners.”
“All the coaches, I think, felt the same way,” Creston head girls basketball coach Larry McNutt said. “Chelcee is having a good year in track and had a good year in basketball. It was her best year in basketball. She’s kind of excelled as a senior.”
Downing spent two of her three years of playing basketball for McNutt as a starter on the Panther basketball team, having come off the bench as a sophomore in McNutt’s first year as coach.
As a senior, Downing averaged 5.9 points per game, knocking down a team-high 19 3-pointers on 27.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.
She also led the team with 62 assists and finished with 27 steals.
Downing started the year off with a bang, dropping in 18 points with three 3-pointers in a win over Mount Ayr in the championship game of the Raiderette Tip-off Classic, earning MVP honors for the game.
Later in the season, she scored 14 points with a pair of 3-pointers in a win against Interstate 35 at Southwestern Community College.
“There was a few games in there, if she doesn’t make those shots, we don’t win those games,” McNutt said. “She did a good job. With our team, she was more of a role player and did a good job in those games. Those were shots we had to have, because we don’t have a lot of outside shooters. We needed someone to step up and make those shots.”
Downing said she spent a lot of time working on her outside shot this season.
“I think it just came with time and it finally started clicking as the season went on,” she said. “The team really depended on me for that this season.”
In fact, her shot selection, along with her defense, were two areas McNutt felt she showed the most improvement.
“I thought this year her defense was better than it had been,” he said. “She made a little bit more of a commitment to do that. She’s quick and she used her quickness a little bit more to her advantage. I thought the type of shots she took this year were a lot better. She kind of understood the shots she could make.”
Her quickness, along with her competitiveness, were two of her biggest assets on the basketball court.
In fact, McNutt said her quickness directly led to a win against Clarke this year.
“The one game I remember was against Clarke,” he said. “The ball got loose and I think we were only up one at the time. They were going to go on a fast break, but Chelcee beat the rest of the Clarke players down the floor and protected the basket long enough for the rest of us to get back. That was a key in that game. If they score, the go ahead and I don’t know if we win that game.”
That quickness and competitiveness directly translated into her success on the track, Arnold said.
Her track career started out running mostly 100s and 200s, but has since seen her become one of Arnold’s best 400 meter runners.
“I never thought I’d be good at 400s,” Downing said. “My dad was really good at them. He went to state in them. I always thought maybe there could be a chance I’d be a 400 runner, and then I got the idea in my mind that it’s just mind over matter.”
Now consistently running splits of 1:02 for the Panthers on relays, Downing has come a long way since her freshman year when she hated running 400s.
“She came in and she never wanted to run any 400s,” Arnold said. “Threw a fit every time as a freshman that she had to. Then the next year, in preseason practice, she asked me if she was going to get to run any 400s that year. I said, ‘oh yeah!’
“This year, that’s been predominantly what she’s been doing. We needed her to run two big 400s a night. She’s really getting very strong at them and doing a good job for us.”
Thursday, at the State Qualifying Meet in Atlantic, Downing will run a pair of 400s on relays for the Panthers, in an attempt to make one final trip to Drake Stadium for the state meet.
“She knows what it takes,” Arnold said. “She’d like to qualify in two (events) again this year. Could have a chance to put together some pretty salty relays if we run like we should.”
And if she gets to the state track meet, she believes she can drop her 400 time even lower.
Her two best 200 races of her career have come at the state meet, running 27.78 as a sophomore and 27.77 as a junior.
“It’s a fast track,” Downing said. “I always run my fastest times there. I would like to see it at a 60. I know I can do it, it’s just a matter of doing it now.”
Over the course of her career, Downing has tried her hand at six different sports in addition to being a football cheerleader as a senior.
She played volleyball as a freshman and junior, playing in the back row.
She ran cross country as a sophomore, but dealt with strep throat twice during the season, limiting what she was able to do in the sport.
“I loved the team aspect of it and coach (Pat) Schlapia was a great coach,” Downing said. “I never thought I’d be good at long distances, but I ended up lettering in it.”
As a freshman and sophomore, she was a dual-sport athlete in the spring, running track and playing soccer.
The conflict between the two sports became too much, however, and she gave up playing one of her favorite sports in soccer.
“I loved soccer,” she said. “If it was in a different season, I would have done it all four years. It just kind of came naturally to me. It’s very competitive and I really wish it was in a different season than track, because it was one of my favorite sports.”
She also played one year of softball.
Through it all, basketball and track have remained the constants for Downing, with basketball being her favorite sport.
“I liked the competitiveness,” she said. “I liked the team atmosphere, too. It’s just always been my favorite.”
So much so that she’s still mulling an offer to continue her playing career next year at Central College.
“It’s just about balancing schoolwork and doing a sport,” said Downing, who wants to study biology before going on to study genetics. “I love the coach and I love the team atmosphere there, because I went to a camp there this summer.”
McNutt said if she does decide to continue playing, he sees her being a good fit for the program at Central.
“Chelcee will fit in just because she’s a good kid,” he said. “She’s quick enough to help at that level. If she’ll get in the gym, put some time in and become a little bit better shooter and ballhandler, you never know. Sometimes the kids in college maybe weren’t the best kids on their high school team, but excel in college. I think maybe that could be Chelcee.”
Creston High School's Outstanding Female Athlete Award winners:
1972-73 — Jan Lesan
1973-74 — Ellen Pendegraft
1974-75 — Carol Reed, Sue Tind
1975-76 — Roxann Sammons
1976-77 — Rhonda Piel
1977-78 — Dorothy Loos
1978-79 — Carol McFee, Kerri Martin
1979-80 — Debbie Oxenrider
1980-81 — Janelle Johnson, Kelly Reed
1981-82 — Marty Lang
1982-83 — Melanie Blubaugh, Lynn Spurgeon
1983-84 — Lisa Becker, Lori Quam
1984-85 — Donna Dickinson
1985-86 — Tawnya Antisdel
1986-87 — Shannon Freeman
1987-88 — Deanne Eilers
1988-89 — Barb Bradley, Polly Gammell
1989-90 — Janelle Eblen
1990-91 — Kandee Bishop
1991-92 — Tonya Latham
1992-93 — Emily Sevier
1993-94 — Tara Adams, Teri Bunkofske
1994-95 — Summer Hook
1995-96 — Cari Briley, Sarah Vicker
1996-97 — Lindsay Courtney
1997-98 — Casee Piel, Jessica Moeller
1998-99 — Leanne Owens
1999-00 — Emily Bruce, Michelle Clausen
2000-01 — Amanda Parker
2001-02 — Kylee Bradley, Jessica Schierbaum
2002-03 — Stormy Weis
2003-04 — Amy Goldsmith
2004-05 — Jacque Jay
2005-06 — Ashley Hartsook, Brittany Riley
2006-07 — Kari McCann
2007-08 — Meghin Krambeck
2008-09 — Morgan Evans, Nicole Hunter, Aubrey Pendegraft
2009-10 — Jill Johnson, Kierra Smith
2010-11 — Taylor Hance, Carla Smith
2011-12 — Katlin Briley, Madison Frain
2012-13 — Brianna Maitlen
2013-14 — Chelcee Downing