As the Grove Lady Red look to recapture their former greatness in fastpitch softball, they’ll have a familiar face in the dugout attempting to lead them there.
Longtime assistant coach Jeremy Collins was promoted to the head coaching position on May 11. Since then, Collins has been frantically busy readying his team for the upcoming season.
“It’s been a little bit hectic because I got hired so late,” Collins said. “The adjustment period has been really compact.”
In between meeting with players and parents and getting the field ready for the upcoming season, Collins also coached the Lady Red to an 8-0 record in their summer league.
“We gained a lot of experience and it gave me an idea of what they’re capable of.”
Though it’s his first time as a head coach at the varsity level at Grove, Collins is familiar with most of the players on his team through his work as an assistant coach and a junior high coach over the past seven years. Collins was an assistant to head coach Richard Bassett on last year’s girls’ basketball squad, which many softball players also played on.
“That’s been a huge help. I coached almost every one of these kids in junior high, so I had an idea of what they could do. I already have a relationship built with these kids. That trust factor has already been established. That’s been the easy part [of the transition].”
Though last year’s squad went 13-16, Collins has high expectations for the Lady Red, who graduated just three players from last year’s squad.
“This group is pretty talented,” Collins said. “My expectations, and the girls’ expectations, are to be playing in the state tournament.”
The Lady Red qualified for 10 state tournaments over a 13-year period from 1994 to 2006. That run included state titles in 1996 and 2000, as well as runner up finished in 1995, 1998, and 2006. However, Grove has not been back to the state tournament since that 2006 season.
Collins will be relying on a talented trio of pitchers to lead his squad back to Oklahoma City. Senior Gregorye Epperson, junior Andrea Gonzalez and sophomore Jessie Walker will all take their turns in the circle. Another mainstay for this year’s squad will be senior catcher Katie Stout, a four-year starter behind the plate. Sophomore infielder Taylor Dodson is also a player who will be called on to lead the way.
“Our strength will be our pitching and defense,” Collins said. “We’ll have to manufacture runs with small ball. Right now it’s just the execution of the little things, the fundamentals, that we’re working on. I want them to compete at a faster pace and a higher level. We want to get them to their highest potential.”