#8 D Greg Downing
Some players leave their imprint on a lacrosse game by leading an offensive attack and putting up copious amounts of points. Others make their mark by impeding the other team from doing the same. Swarm defensemen Greg Downing falls into the latter category, and while fans won’t often find him on the highlight reel or see his name all over the scoresheet, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound lefty plays a critical role in keeping Minnesota in the game and keeping the other team off of the scoreboard.
Currently in his sixth year in the NLL, Downing is one of the most experienced players on the Swarm roster, and holds an important leadership role among his teammates. The Auburn, New York native took a chance to chat with MNSwarm.com about his life outside lacrosse, what his team needs to do to return to the playoffs and even the Olympics.
Hollerud: Everyone knows you spend your weekends anchoring the Swarm’s defense, but what keeps you busy Monday through Friday?
Downing: I am an energy rater with a Denver company called Energy Logic. We do residential energy audits, verification of energy codes and consultation with builders to make sure they are following code and following the necessary steps to become an Energy Star home or to get various rebates.
Hollerud: You just finished up your Masters Degree at Denver, how does it feel to get that process completed and what are you hoping to do with your new degree?
Downing: It feels great; getting my degree definitely took up a large part of my time last year. I graduated with a Masters in environmental policy and management, and throughout my coursework I took some classes related in residential energy, and that really got me interested to do the job I have today. I’m just looking to progress with the company I am at right now and we’ll see where it goes from there.
Hollerud: Being one of the only Americans on the roster, are there any tensions among you and the rest of the guys now that the Olympics are underway? Are there any friendly wagers being made between you and the Canadians on the team?
Downing: It’s mostly just friendly banter going on right now with each other, I believe David Earl and myself are the only Americans on the team, so we are definitely outnumbered. There hasn't been any wagers yet, but the hockey tournament hasn’t started yet so we’ll see how that goes. [Note: Earl is actually Canadian so Downing is more outnumbered than he thought.]
Hollerud: Now with you being a stay at home defender who won’t rack up the points like a forward or get number of loose balls as a transition player, what are a few things fans can watch for that indicate when you are playing at the top of your game?
Downing: When I’m playing at the top of my game I’m adding to loose ball numbers on the faceoff team– that’s one of the areas I take pride in. I just really try to be that defenseman who you really don’t notice. I think when defensemen aren’t noticed out there it means they are doing their job and shutting down the opposing players.
Hollerud: Being one of the veterans on a young team, what responsibilities do you put on yourself to help the rookies make the transition into the NLL?
Downing: I’m not really one of those loud “rah-rah” guys in the locker room, so I take accountability for sometimes pulling guys aside during games or shootarounds and show them some of the little things I notice from time to time. Sometimes it takes a little bit to make the jump, the NLL is such a faster pace than college lacrosse so it is tough for them to grasp the speed out there in their first few games.
Hollerud: On the road you are roommates with rookie Cameron Flint; aside from the Denver connection you share is there a mentor-mentee relationship there?
Downing: A little bit, I found myself in a similar situation when I started out, coming in as a rookie and finding a groove with the team. I remember I started out with the [Boston] Blazers and I sat the first two, three games and it was definitely a frustrating time for me, so I try to share that experience with Cam and let him know that once you get in the lineup and once the coaches see what you can do it is going to be tough to take you out of the lineup. I think he’s definitely coming up to speed, and it’s just a matter of getting that game experience.
Hollerud: You were also a key member of a couple Swarm teams the last few years who made a few deep runs in the playoffs, what do you think this year’s squad needs to do to erase the slow start and begin to duplicate the success you have seen before?
Downing: Really we just need to start clicking at the same time. It seemed like in the beginning of the year our defense was clicking and our offense had a slow start; and now these past two games our offense has put up the numbers we need to win and our defense hasn’t been there to support them. We just need some consistency from both ends now. Our offensive guys are definitely finding their stride and our defense now needs to take it upon ourselves to step up. If we do that then I think we are going to find some success.
Hollerud: Specifically with the defense, is there anything that has to improve to get back to the dominant play you displayed over the first three games (allowing only 8.7 goals/game over the first three contests), or is it simply a matter of being more consistent?
Downing: It’s a little bit of both, I really think our communication needs to improve. I know I had myself two mental errors this last game that really sat with me. It’s different from college lacrosse where you can go out to practice the next day and forget about those things, instead now we get a full week to mull over our mistakes. It all comes down to a couple simple mistakes that are easily correctable, and I think that’s going to come with us getting more experience playing with one another and stepping up the communication.
Hollerud: This Saturday marks the first time this season you guys get to play back-to-back weeks at home. What advantages does playing in The Hive provide versus earlier in the season when you were on the road each week?
Downing: You get comfortable playing in your home arena; you get a routine down so there are no real question marks as to what’s going to happen over the weekend. You know the arena, you know you are going to go to the Downtowner [Woodfire Grill, St. Paul] to eat, and you get comfortable with the weekend routine.
Additionally our crowd is amazing. I’ve been here for three years and every game we’ve had great support from them, now we just have to win some games for them.
Hollerud: Also this weekend you guys have the chance to make a big statement and prove yourself by handing Edmonton their first loss of the year. Does it give you any extra motivation knowing that the team coming to your barn is undefeated or are all eyes focused internally at this point?
Downing: I think it’s easy to say that we are going to keep things internal and focus on ourselves, and while that needs to be done, [Edmonton] is obviously off to a great start and we’d love to be the first team to put a loss in their record. I’m looking forward to the opportunity, as is all of my teammates, to say that despite a slow start we are a legitimate team and we’re here to battle it out the rest of the season.