Leadoff hitter Monica Collins admits feeling nervous during the minutes leading up to each Franklin College softball game.

But once the first pitch is delivered, the junior, a Whiteland Community High School graduate, is completely dialed in.

At the plate, this means focusing on whatever it takes to get on base and give the Grizzlies immediate momentum.

“Seeing the ball well and pitch selection are very important for being a leadoff hitter. You kind of set the tone for the game,” Collins said. “Honestly, even though you think you’re confident every time you go up there, I still shake every time.

“But it makes you realize the coach has a lot of confidence in you. I just keep reminding myself of that.”

Collins, one of four former Johnson County players on Zike’s roster, is off to a fast start this season. She is batting a scalding .632 with nine RBIs and 10 runs scored after Franklin College’s six victories in as many games on a trip to Clermont, Florida.

Unlike many college athletes, Collins, a secondary education major who maintains a 3.3 grade-point average, didn’t enter the Grizzlies’ program believing a starting role was a foregone conclusion.

Collins learned from coaches and older teammates, applied those lessons to the softball diamond and gradually began making an impact. Unable to switch-hit as a freshman, the right-handed hitter put in the work and is capable of producing from the left side.

“They worked with me a lot on that,” she said. “I do it a lot in practice to help the team work on slap defense and things like that. At first it was very hard to learn, but I really enjoyed learning something new.”

Collins played sparingly as a freshman with 15 at-bats but was fourth on the squad last spring with 123. Collins led Franklin College in runs (43) and steals (12) as a sophomore.

Defensively, she’s chasing down flyballs in center field, several of which seemed certain to elude the 5-foot-3 dynamo’s grasp.

“Her defense is unbelievable. I know Monica won two or three games for us last year with running down fly balls,” Franklin College coach Butch Zike said. “I know that she helped win one of the DePauw games for us. Her range is unbelievable.

“Monica is just so explosive. She is short and powerful. She is a powerful runner, a powerful hitter, and she just battles you. That may be the best thing about her. Monica just battles you.”

The Grizzlies are back in action today, hosting a doubleheader against Kalamazoo starting at 1 p.m.

A catcher when she started playing softball as an 8-year-old, Collins’ speed on the basepaths and in the outfield eventually forced coaches to utilize her skills differently.

“I wasn’t a catcher for long,” Collins said with a laugh.

Last season, Collins was named to the All-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team, yet her pregame nervousness persists.

Zike, meanwhile, views it as a positive.

“I think that’s a really good attribute. I want those kids who are a little bit on edge,” Zike said. “Monica is always on that edge, and I think that helps her play a little bit better. It shows that she cares.

“When she arrived, we had a lot of good outfielders. She worked very hard in practice, was full of ability, but still pretty raw. She’s paid her dues.”

Local connections

Johnson County players who are part of the Franklin College softball program:

Name;High school;Class;Position

Monica Collins;Whiteland;Junior;OF

Lexi Gaffney;Center Grove;Freshman;OF

Grace Paszek;Franklin;Senior;1B

Olivia Paszek;Franklin;Senior;P

Author photo
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.