Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Collins Headed to Middlebury

Bedford High senior Rachel Collins is a remarkable student in the classroom, a sweet jump shot and terrific fundamentals on the court. She'll be bringing all 3 attributes with her to Middlebury College in Vermont. Middlebury is a Division III program which competes in the New England Small College Conference (NESCAC), is one of the finest academic institutions in the country and will be Collins' new home for the next four years.

Collins is a 5-foot-8 shooting guard with a tremendous jump shot that she can hit at will either from 3-point or mid-range. She sees the floor well and is a good passer. Collins has great fundamentals and understanding of the game. She thrives in either an up-tempo or half court game. While there's no question she is one of the NHIAA's top players from the Class of 2014, her path to choosing a college was different than most other top rated recruits.

"I was recruited by some colleges, but I found that I was focusing too much on the basketball programs and not enough on the schools" Collins explained. "I visited a school in the Midwest for example, with an amazing basketball program, but I realized that the school wasn’t the right ‘fit’ for me. So I changed my whole approach to looking at colleges and stopped focusing on schools that were recruiting me. I focused on the type of school I wanted - high academic schools, in New England, small, rural, liberal arts, with good character (I was looking mostly at NESCAC schools, as well as Dartmouth). Middlebury was the perfect fit for me, and when I visited last summer I really loved it. Its campus is beautiful, the academic programs are unique, and the people are amazing!"

It is refreshing to hear a kid who puts academics before athletics when choosing a college. It is evident that Collins has a good head on her shoulders. She has also been playing basketball since a very young age. Collins and the rest of the Bedford girls who are now dominating the state of NH in basketball grew up being coached by her father Mike Collins, who coached many of them with the NE Crusaders AAU team and is now the Bedford High JV coach.

"Both my parents went to Dartmouth and have always stressed academics" Collins told the NH Notebook. "They also stress the importance of 'fit' for college; that I pick a college based on how much I like the college, not just the basketball program. My Dad loves the game and coaching kids, and at one time or another has coached most of the Bedford kids in AAU. I think he was a major factor in keeping this group of girls together for so long, because he coached us from such an early age and taught us to love the game."

Collins is an extremely intelligent kid and bright student, so it's no surprise that she'll be going to such an esteemed university that will set her up nicely for life after college.

"At Middlebury, I don’t know what I’m going to study yet" said Collins. "I’ve always loved math, so I’m most likely going to pursue a Math major, or possibly Computer Science. However, I’m looking forward to taking a variety of classes and seeing what happens. Middlebury has amazing language programs, and I’m thinking of taking German and doing a semester abroad in Germany. I suspect I’ll attend graduate school too."

Although Collins chose Middlebury for its academics, she also hopes to play for the school's varsity basketball team.

"Once I got into Middlebury, I started emailing the coach and hoped that the team would like me as a player" Collins continued. "The coach has come to one of our games and we've been corresponding. I’m still learning about the program, and visiting up there in a couple of weeks."

Although Middlebury didn't make first contact to Collins with regards to recruiting, it's a safe bet that she will make the team there.

"With the jump shot that she has, any program would be lucky to have her" commented Bedford High head coach Sue Thomas.

Thomas coached Collins and the rest of her Bedford High teammates to the 2012-2013 NHIAA girls basketball state championship, in just their first season in Division I. They defeated reigning champion Bishop Guertin 39-38 in one of the best title games in recent memory.

"The championship game last year just added to our team’s bond" said Collins. "It’s an accomplishment that we will share for the rest of our lives. Winning that game for us was huge. We could think back to the eight years of practices, workouts, and games that we had played together and how all that hard work paid off. In terms of how high that game ranks in my fondest basketball memories, it’s definitely #1. The championship was a game of perseverance; we weren't winning until the last six seconds. But we didn’t give up, and that success is something all of us will always remember. I think a lot of people think the championship game was an upset, but we don’t. We thought we were the best team and winning the ‘ship was a huge thrill."

Collins hopes to lead Bedford to a second straight championship before heading off to Middlebury. Bedford is 14-0, and 13 of those wins have been by 23 points or more so the chances of a repeat championship look pretty good. What makes this team so special?

"When you talk about our team, you have to understand our relationship off the court" Collins explained. "The five seniors have known each other since fourth grade when we all started playing AAU together. At this point, we’re far more than teammates; we are really good friends. And when you have a core of girls that get along so well, the rest of the team follows suit. The five underclassmen fit right in, and the team gets along so well outside of basketball, that on the basketball court, we have great chemistry. That’s the key to our success - that and all the practice we've put in."

Bedford High isn't the only elite basketball team that Collins has played on. For the past several years she has played on the AAU circuit with the NE Crusaders. With the Crusaders, Collins has been able to travel the country playing in a ton of high level tournaments which have helped to develop her game.

"The Crusaders really allowed me to work on my game and play against some of the top players in the country" Collins concluded. "We didn't win all the time, but it really made my teammates and me better. New Hampshire is a pretty small state, and if you really want to get good competition you have to travel to these tournaments far away, which is what the Crusaders allowed me to do. The high school season is very short, so if you want to really be a good player you have to be in a top club like the Crusaders to work on your game. Plus I got to play with some of the best players in the state - Aliza, Courtney, Clairee, Ali, McKenzie."

The word elite certainly describes Collins - both in the classroom and on the court. Congratulations to her and best of luck at Middlebury.

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