Dual sport L’Anse Creuse coach details love for her craft

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published March 9, 2017

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HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse softball and girls basketball coach Lisa Downey loves what she does.

Downey, in her 23rd year as a teacher and softball coach with the Lancers, relishes the opportunities she’s been given so much that she remembers her very first coaching job 35 years ago.

“I was in high school, and my first coaching position was as the fifth- and sixth-grade girls basketball coach in the (Catholic Youth Organization) at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Harper Woods,” said Downey, who just completed her ninth year as L’Anse Creuse’s girls basketball coach. “I remember having 65 girls try out for the team and only being able to keep 15. I had to cut 50 girls. It was a really tough thing to do.”

Downey — who played competitive slow-pitch softball into her 40s — has a passion for sports and coaching.

A graduate of Bishop Gallagher High in Harper Woods, Downey lettered in softball, basketball and tennis. She later served as a JV basketball coach at Bishop Gallagher and Farmington Hills Mercy. She credits watching decorated coaches Ron Biotti (Bishop Gallagher) and Larry Baker (Mercy) for building her passion for coaching. Some of it is in her blood too.

“My family was and is sports crazy. That’s all we did all day long,” said Downey, whose father played in the Philadelphia Athletics baseball organization before it moved to Oakland, California. “Sports were his life and he spread that passion on to me.

“I was a gym rat and watched Baker and Biotti run practices, and my passion for coaching was cemented permanently in my heart.”

There was a detour on Downey’s road to becoming a coach.

Downey — who also served as varsity girls basketball coach at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley for seven years before heading to L’Anse Creuse — earned a finance degree and an MBA from Wayne State University.

“I was originally in the business world, so I coached in the CYO and at Bishop Gallagher as my (work schedule) made it very difficult to coach at the high school level,” Downey said. “I decided to change my career after working in business for six years, as my passion for teaching and coaching was something I really wanted to pursue.”

And here she is.

Downey calls coaching a vocation. She said it has to be in a person’s blood if they’re to make a career out of it.

“I’m a lifer, and there are fewer and fewer lifers nowadays,” Downey said, as she’s been the softball coach at L’Anse Creuse since 1998. “Coaching allows me to keep competing, which I love. I really enjoy seeing the young players work together to achieve common goals, and it is so rewarding to see them improve and grow as athletes and people.”

Downey has been rewarded in spades.

She recalls several basketball and softball players who stood out and helped their respective teams to some measure of success. Former L’Anse Creuse girls basketball standouts Carlay Stahl (University of Findlay, Ohio), Leeza Donald, Emily Hranchook, and sisters Tina and Carly D’Almeida provided Downey with great memories and performances, along with a strong work ethic.

The softball team Downey remembers most is her 2002 squad that advanced to the Division 1 regional finals, along with her 2013 team that set the program record for wins with 29. Downey has coached a host of strong softball players, but 2012 graduate Michelle Tononi — who went on to play at Ferris State University — stands out the most.

“Michelle suffered a spiral fracture of the humerus (upper arm bone) on her left arm in a game,” Downey recalls. “It happened in one of the most horrific collisions I’ve seen in a softball game. The break caused nerve damage in her hand, and the doctors were not sure if she would ever be able to play again. She not only played again, but she earned a scholarship to Ferris State and started at shortstop as a freshman. She would flat-out dive for every ground ball I hit her at practice. Her passion and determination go unmatched.”

Memories like that are why Downey continues to coach.

Softball practice began March 13, and the Lancers are coming off a Macomb Area Conference Blue Division title. The team has won division titles in three of the last four seasons.

Downey is looking forward to the new season. She said she has a hardworking group of players who love the game, including seniors Alaina Macksoud (outfield), Lauren Korpal (third base), Maggie Decueninck (outfield), Courtney Konal (utility), Sammi Mills (pitcher/catcher) and sophomore Brooke Nadolny (infielder/pitcher).

The Lancers have won at least 20 games for five straight seasons.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them be the best they can be on and off the field,” Downey said. “We’re hoping to duplicate last season’s success.”

Downey has no plans of slowing down. She said seeing young girls grow into successful, confident athletes and people is very rewarding.

“There’s nothing I’d rather do than coach,” Downey said. “It’s my passion, and teaching and coaching are career choices I wouldn’t change for anything.”

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