Kailin Downs knew well the pressures of NCAA Division I golf long before she became head coach of the women’s team at Portland State University.
Running her own program, though, is a whole other matter.
More stressful? “Yes,” the 30-year-old from Bend replies with a chuckle.
“There is definitely more on your plate,” adds Downs, who spent five seasons as an assistant for Oregon State before accepting the PSU job in September. “I loved Oregon State and I loved my position there, and I cared about the team and the program and their success. But when you’re a head coach, everything means just a little more because you know it comes back to you in the end.”
Among the most decorated golfers Central Oregon has ever produced, the Mountain View High graduate is accustomed to success as an all-America golfer at the University of New Mexico and as a former touring pro.
This, though, has been a crash course in being a head coach.
The Vikings had already played in two tournaments last fall when Downs was hired in September to replace Kathleen Takaishi, who had moved on to the University of Nevada.
Days after arriving on the downtown Portland campus, Downs was coaching her new team in PSU’s own Rose City Collegiate tournament. Just a week after that she coached the Vikings to a tournament win — her team shot a school-record, 3–over par 867 — in a 14-team event in Las Cruces, N.M.
Not a bad first 10 days to a head coaching career.
“Obviously it was better than I could have expected or hoped for,” says Downs. “It was pretty cool to win the second tournament with them.”
Along with the fast start, though, came other challenges.
The first four months of her tenure have been a blur as she has adjusted to a new role in an unfamiliar athletic department.
“I still kind of feel like I am treading water, I guess, trying to figure everything out,” Downs says.
Her late start to the fall season also left a void in what is the lifeblood of a college athletics program.
“The recruiting … DEFINITELY behind the game,” says Downs, adding that most collegiate golf programs sign the bulk of their recruiting classes in the fall. “Because I came in so late, I was really just focused on the end of our season and making sure all that was going OK. So by the time I got to where I could deal with the recruiting, there was only a couple of weeks left before signing and most of the people at that point were not ready to make a decision or already had made a decision.”
Downs is only now beginning to catch up. But she does have a plan.
Her goal is to make PSU as attractive as she can to the best prep golfers in Oregon — including those in Central Oregon, an area she knows so well.
“It’s important to me that we get some of the top Oregon players in the next few years,” Downs says. “I think that says something when the kids from your own state consider you as an option. And that hasn’t necessarily been the case the last few years.”
The Vikings have two golfers from Oregon on their roster but both are reserves.
An Oregon Amateur champion and former standout golfer at Mountain View High, Downs has little time these days for her own play.
Just two weeks ago she filled in for an intrasquad match-play game.
It wasn’t pretty for the golfer who once advanced to the round of 16 in the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
“Yeah, I got my butt kicked,” says Downs.
Such is life for a practice-starved head golf coach.
Regardless, Portland State appears to be an ideal fit for Downs.
She is taking over a program that has won six Big Sky Conference titles since 2003. And without a senior among her team’s current top five, Downs’ players are young.
“I am having a lot of fun,” says Downs, who was also attracted to PSU because she could remain close to her family in Bend, something that she says is of utmost importance to her. “I still think this is such a great opportunity for me. I was given the team I inherited and the success of the program, and I am excited to continue that and keep growing it.”
Plus, the drive that made Downs an elite player translates well to her coaching, says Rise Alexander, the head coach at Oregon State.
“I expect Kailin to have a very successful career at Portland State because she is prepared to succeed and driven to succeed in competition just as she was when she was a collegiate player herself,” says Alexander, who mentored Downs for five years at OSU. “Whatever Kailin decides to do in coaching and in life she will look at all her options, choose her passion, and work diligently to deliver on her commitments.”
The whirlwind will begin to settle down once the spring season tees off Feb. 24 in Southern California, Downs says.
For now, she is still living with a friend in Portland. But she plans to rent a home later this spring in West Linn, a Portland suburb where Downs lived before moving to Bend with her family when she was in eighth grade.
Then she can finally settle in and look to a future that appears bright.
“I would say there has been a little bit more stress over the last few months,” Downs says. “But in the end I know it will all come together.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7868, firstname.lastname@example.org.