Ever since Mackenzee Collins started pitching when she was 8, she’s wanted to reach the highest level in softball.
Her late father Tim believed she could do it, and so did her mother, Heather, as well as number of other supportive people in her life. Just as important, Collins had faith in herself.
Nearly a decade later, the South Whidbey High School senior finally achieved that goal when she signed her letter of intent with Colorado State University this past week. Collins, who was named the Cascade Conference’s defensive player of the year in 2017, is the Division I program’s only pitching recruit for 2018 and is expected to immediately contribute to a Rams team that went 28-22 in 2017.
“It’s a relief first of all,” Collins said. “It’s years of stress gone away now.”
“It feels really great,” she added.
Collins sacrificed the life of a normal teenager in order to be where she is today. While most of her peers relax on the weekends, Collins is traveling across the Puget Sound to practice with premier club teams that often play in the national spotlight. She also takes regular pitching lessons from a former Division I pitcher, Danika Anaya, in Woodinville.
In other words, softball is a year-round sport for her.
“There’s kind of no offseason,” Heather Collins said. “You actually have to continually get better.”
Her efforts paid off her junior year when she was the most dominant pitcher in the Cascade Conference. She threw 291 strikeouts during the regular season with an earned run average of 2.056. She also struck out 30 batters in three games at the class 1A state softball championships.
Collins’ stellar performance came two years after her father died unexpectedly in August 2015. Tim Collins was a big influence in Mackenzee Collins’ life from an early age; one of her favorite childhood memories was going to pitch with her dad at South Whidbey Elementary School while it was 22 degrees and snowing. He later coached his daughter as head coach of the Falcon softball program.
“When he died, I wasn’t sure I was going to even play for the Ladyhawks at all,” Mackenzee Collins said. “…They ended up being super understanding and it worked out.”
“That’s been the hardest thing, without him in the stands,” she added.
Alexandra Goheen, who replaced Tim Collins as the Falcons’ head coach in 2016, was worried about how Mackenzee might react to playing without her dad. Goheen admired her ability to rebound despite the circumstances.
“She was one of the strongest girls,” Goheen said. “She’s been through a lot. If you look at her, you can never even tell.”
Mackenzee Collins wasn’t sad or dejected — she was focused.
“It was like nothing else mattered,” Collins said. “I just worked really hard on that. I wasn’t sad. It was just softball.”
The longtime pitcher’s strongest attribute is her confidence. Even if the odds are against her, she isn’t easily phased. Three weeks ago, Collins traveled to Colorado State University’s campus in Fort Collins, Colo., for an official visit. It was actually a glorified tryout.
The coaching staff heard about Collins’ skills through the Washington Ladyhawks’ head coach, but had only seen a few videos of her pitching. She was asked to pitch against other recruits visiting the campus. All of the coach’s eyes were on her.
Collins wasn’t nervous. She threw some of her favorite pitches — screw balls and change ups — with pitching speeds hovering between 60-63 miles per hour.
The next day, the Rams’ pitching coach, Dedeann Pendleton-Helm, offered her a scholarship.
“She nailed it,” Heather Collins said. “It was pretty exciting.”
Mackenzee Collins’ outlook on her mental strength seems to fit in line with how an athlete achieves their goals: tune out the distractions and positively respond to any adversity that may come in the way, and the rest will follow.
“Honestly, I think my strongest suit is my confidence and being able to block out everything — the white noise, the crowd and even the coaches at certain times to focus on the batter,” Collins said. “When you focus, you hit your spot. That’s the starting point for everything else.”