BY GARY HAWKINS

Oak Hill softball coach Allyson Collins loves to get on the field with her players. A dozen years removed from her playing days at St. Joseph’s College and earlier at Oak Hill, Collins throws batting practice, hits infield and jumps into sliding drills.

“You can tell she’s still in her glory days,” Oak Hill senior Jamie Prue said. “She tells us ‘I enjoy coaching but I wish I could play with you.'”

Collins’ enthusiasm caught on with her team this year, too. The Raiders went 14-2 in the Mountain Valley Conference and beat Cape Elizabeth in the first round of the Class B South playoffs before losing to powerful York.

For her efforts, Collins is the Kennebec Journal Softball Coach of the Year. Also considered was Richmond’s Tony Martin, who led the Bobcats to the Class D state title.

Collins began coaching ASA softball just out of college and has gradually worked her way through the middle school and junior varsity ranks before taking over as head coach five years ago. She was fairly sure her Raiders were in for a good season this spring.

“I had high expectations,” she said. “It’s nice when you have pitching and catching. We also had four four-year varsity players and they were just very unselfish. Sometimes egos get in the way.”

Collins pitched for coach Julie Boucher at Oak Hill and includes her as one of her coaching influences. Her two coaches at St. Joseph’s were a contrast in styles, one hard-core, the other encouraging, and Collins has tried to strike a balance between the two. She’s also carried over that demanding and encouraging style to the classroom, where she teaches middle schoolers.

“The biggest thing is she’s not just a coach, she’s a role model,” Prue said. “We’ve all become so close to her she’s like a big sister in a way, She’s something I’ll miss most about Oak Hill.”

Prue said she only recalled Collins raising her voice once this season, during practice, but said the players recognize and respect her position despite their mutual friendship.

“There are lines you don’t cross with her,” Prue said.

Collins calls herself aggressively cautious when it comes to coaching style. She likes to hit and run and play some small ball but isn’t willing to take a chance that she believes will result in an out. A point of emphasis in practice this season was base running and it paid off in some close victories over Hall-Dale and Telstar, perennially two of the top teams in the Mountain Valley Conference. Madison beat the Raiders twice ‚ ” they were our kryptonite” Collins said ‚ but the Bulldogs also went unbeaten and won the Class C state championship. Her challenge at the beginning of the season was to get her players to believe what she saw in them.

“I wasn’t really sure how we’d be,” Prue said. “No one really knew what we were going into. She made it clear to us we had a lot of potential.”

Prue played soccer, basketball and softball for Collins in middle school and admits at the time softball didn’t top her list.

“Softball was not my favorite sport,” she said. “Now I love it.”