By Mike London
SALISBURY – Janiya Downs, a sophomore at Catawba College, is confident and healthy again.
Now, the South Rowan graduate can’t wait to prove to herself and doubts what she can do on the basketball and volleyball courts.
She plans to compete in both sports for Indians during this unique 2020-2021 school year. She will try to return to volleyball after not participating in the sport as a college rookie.
Catawba’s basketball and volleyball seasons will be condensed.
Catawba women’s basketball expects to kick off a 20-game regular season (all South Atlantic Conference games) on November 21, and the loaded Indians will have an SAC tournament and possibly playoff games in the NCAA to participate in after that.
Downs expects Catawba volleyball, which is normally played in the fall, to adopt a 14-game schedule at some point in 2021.
“I’ve always loved volleyball a lot and the coaches and players texted me and talked to me about playing,” Downs said. “I’m healthy now, so I really want to try it.”
Catawba basketball runs conditioning-focused training sessions for eight hours a week. The SAC plan is for standard team practices to begin on October 22.
Downs also devotes effort and time to volleyball practice, about four hours per week.
The 5-foot-11 Downs were co-captain and co-MVP of South Rowan volleyball as a junior and senior and were from All-Rowan County.
She’s fast and elastic enough to be a county champion in the long jump, high jump and 4 × 100 as a senior. She finished second in the 200 ahead of Mikaila Gadson of Carson, a DI track athlete.
But it was in the hoops that Downs became a household name. As a senior All-State, she averages a county record of 32.3 points per game. She scored 60 percent of South’s points. She also averaged 12.5 rebounds, 4.2 steals and 1.6 blocks and led the Raiders in assists.
She has scored 2,371 career points in four seasons, second in county history behind Shayla Fields of Salisbury. Her personal trophy case was filled with two County Female Athlete of the Year and three Basketball Player of the Year or Co-Player of the Year awards.
The Downs have drawn plenty of double defensive teams as a senior, but she has scored 40, 42, 52, 53, 43 and 42 points in the regular season. There was a mind-blowing 52/17/10 triple double against a good North Davidson team. In South’s playoff loss to RS Central, Downs scored 44. She had 839 points in 26 games.
But Downs was a faint shadow of his once dominant personality as a Catawba rookie, averaging 3.0 points and 1.6 rebounds, while playing around 8 minutes per game. She racked up six fouls for each assist, shot 2 for 17 on 3 points and never seemed comfortable. She took some hard hits and missed out on driving opportunities. Things snowballed. If it could go wrong, it does.
“Janiya really struggled last season,” Catawba head coach Terence McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon doesn’t expect Downs, who turned 19 in March, to experience a similar ordeal in November.
His problems as a rookie were mostly physical. She was injured in the summer of 2019 during the East-West All-Star Game in Greensboro.
“It was a muscle injury to a quad, and it slowed me down a lot,” said Downs. “Then I tore it up completely. I had a hard time with that. It was terrible.”
Downs missed Catawba’s pre-season conditioning, fell behind, got stressed, then tried to come back too early.
She wanted to play and the coaches wanted her to play, seeing her as the last piece that could put a strong team on top, but it didn’t work. She was showing flashes, but not often enough. Eventually, her confidence waned. Shots went in and out and every whistle sounded like a fault.
Surgery was an option for Downs after a tough season, but she opted for a more conservative rest and rehabilitation schedule.
“The surgery would have meant being out of basketball for a long time, and I really wanted to play this season,” Downs said. “It worked. About two months ago, I finally started to feel myself again, like I was all the way home. I just needed time to recover and I never had that time last season. I can do the things I want to do.
Downs was surprised at how more physical the physical varsity ball was than high school and realized she needed to get stronger. She’s dedicated herself to the weight room, outdoor track and rehab training during the offseason, so she’s ahead of most players right now.
“You can tell who ran and worked in the offseason and who didn’t,” said McCutcheon. “Janiya has been one of our sharpest players in conditioning drills. She looks stronger and in much better shape.
On paper, Catawba will have a formidable team. The roster features 13 returning players, all of whom contributed, from a team that stood 16-1 (with the overtime loss) at the end of January. At this point, Catawba looked like the strongest team in the SAC.
Things turned out at the end of the season with adversity off the field, but it was still a 23-6 team that only lost one game at home. Senior Taisha DeShazo is a returning All-SAC first team player, while Lyrik Thorne was honored with All-SAC Mention as a rookie and will undoubtedly be even better this season. There were also games where senior Shemya Stanback, arguably the fastest player in the league, was even better than DeShazo and Thorne.
The team added six freshmen who help in depth, so they can play at a racehorse pace. McCutcheon thinks some of the newcomers can help in November.
“With as many seniors as we do, there won’t be a need for a lot of explanation and teaching,” said McCutcheon. “And now we have SAC dates. It’s good to have many of our questions answered. Now we know where we are going. Now we have a direction. The challenge is on us. “
Throw in some healthy Downs and things might get really interesting for Indians.
Players can choose not to participate in this season if they wish due to COVID-19 issues and keep their purse, but Downs has signed the waiver and is ready to play.
It was a strange start to the school year for Downs. Most of her classes are online, but she physically attends the labs on Wednesdays and Thursdays. She says it’s much easier to learn in person.
“Everything is very different when it comes to school,” Downs said. “Sometimes when I walk around campus I don’t see anyone.”
The highlights of her week are the training sessions where she can spend time with old teammates and meet new ones.
“It was great to see our players have the chance to laugh with each other again,” said McCutcheon. “No matter where they’re from, they all speak the common language of basketball, and it’s a game they’ve enjoyed their entire lives. The effort is good. The energy is good. “
Downs said some Indians resigned themselves months ago to not having a basketball season to prepare for, but are now working hard to get back into shape.
Indians run, run, and still run during training. No contact, just sprinting. They plan to play fast.
It’s good with Downs. It’s what she does best.
“I’m excited,” Downs said. “It’s good to have a firm date that we can all push for. I just hope we can get there throughout the season.