Oak Harbor High School will turn to one of its own to take over the girls basketball program.
Eric Collins, a 2000 Oak Harbor High School graduate, replaces Jon Atkins, who resigned after last season to focus on securing a school administrative job.
Collins will be assisted by another Oak Harbor graduate, Kelsey Rankin (2013). Rankin went on to play volleyball and basketball at Everett Community College.
“(I’m) thankful for this opportunity and I’m excited to have Kelsey Rankin on the coaching staff,” Collins said. “She is also a fellow Wildcat and knows the hard work it takes to be successful on the court. She has high character and will be a great role model for these young ladies to look up to.”
Collins, 38 and a commercial fisherman, said, he “felt it was time to make the jump to head coach” after helping at the sub-varsity level in Oak Harbor since 2004.
“I’ve always wanted to run a program my way (and) coach the best student-athletes this town has,” he said, “and what better place to do it than where I grew up and went to high school myself.”
Collins, who played football, basketball and baseball during his four-year Wildcat athletic career, started his coaching career by leading the 2004 eighth-grade AAU basketball team.
He then coached wide receivers on the 2006 Oak Harbor High School state championship football team.
He coached various Oak Harbor Middle School boys and girls basketball teams from 2007-2012 and 2019-20, helped with the high school girls basketball program from 2010-2015 and then coached the high school boys basketball junior varsity team from 2016-19.
As a head coach, one of his primary goals is to “improve each time we step on the court.”
“We want to outwork our opponents and to play together as a team and just compete,” he added. “No matter if it’s Lynden Christian or Lakewood, we will leave it all out on the court.”
Collins takes over a team that has struggled, going 16-112 in league play and 39-162 overall, the past decade.
“In order for us to be successful, we need to be smart and not beat ourselves,” Collins said. “Whether it be mental mistakes or poor fundamentals, we can’t afford to give our opponents easy baskets.”
Turning the program around won’t be easy. The Wildcats lost the bulk of last year’s team to graduation or transfer. The leading scorer among the returnees averaged only two points per game in 2019-20.
COVID-19 has also stunted the rebuilding program, Collins said.
“Where do I start with the impact the virus has had,” he said. “My first meeting with the team as I introduced myself was through a Zoom chat as I stared at 20-plus boxes on the screen.”
He added that a typical summer includes about six weeks of practice, at least 20 games and a week-long team camp. Those opportunities were erased by the pandemic.
Along with the lack of time to develop skills, the team missed out on learning plays and getting to know each other. Also, the coaching staff missed the chance to evaluate players, Collins said.
“This summer we had zero games, obviously, and what few practices we had were limited with all the COVID guidelines we had to follow,” he said. “So to say we are a little behind is an understatement. Hopefully we will get back in the gym in the next few months and get the ball rolling before the season starts in late December.”
“(The) girls will have to take on new roles and learn them quickly for us to succeed,” he added. “I’m excited for the challenge ahead.”
Collins said winning basketball games is only a fraction of what a good program should be about.
“Academics will always come first, and the same drive and work ethic used on the court should, and hopefully will be, used in the classroom as well,” he said.
He also wants his team to be “a big family” where the players lean on each other.
“Whether it be team dinners, team bonding, team camp, we will do it together,” Collins said. “Our upperclassman will be servant leaders and show the younger players the right way to do things and how we treat each other.”