Staying connected on the softball field

Q&A with Washougal Panthers’ slow-pitch softball captain Natalie Collins

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Washougal High School senior and Panthers' infielder Natalie Collins swings at a pitch during a doubleheader against Columbia River High School on Oct. 11, 2021. (Photos by Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

As a full-time Running Start student taking online classes through Clark College, Natalie Collins doesn’t see the inside of the Washougal High School building very much these days. But thanks to her time spent as a member of the Panthers’ slow-pitch and fast-pitch squads, Collins still feels like she’s a part of the greater school community.

“Softball keeps me connected to the people from my school for sure,” she said. “It makes me feel that I’m not missing out on the high school experience as much.”

Collins, a senior middle infielder, is the captain of Washougal High’s slow-pitch team, which will conclude its regular season on Friday, Oct. 15, then participate in the 2A District 4 tournament. In the spring, she’ll finish her prep softball career as a member of the Washougal High fast-pitch team.

“(Coaches John and Heather) Carver have made (Washougal softball) a great program, and I feel like the girls bond really well together, and that makes it so much more enjoyable to play,” she said. “I want to be the best that I can be for my team and put in all the effort that I can.”

The Post-Record recently talked with Collins about her softball background, future plans and other interests:

PR: Washougal High launched its slow pitch softball team in 2019 when you were a sophomore. As a longtime fast-pitch player, were you excited for the opportunity to play another type of softball?

NC: At the time I was actually playing volleyball, which was at the same time as slow-pitch. I was in the middle of volleyball season but ended up transferring halfway through because I had talked to coach Carver and (told him) that I wasn’t enjoying volleyball like I used to, and he was like, ‘Please come out for slow-pitch.’ And it was a lot different than I thought it was going to be. It was really enjoyable. It slows down the game more and helps you learn. I’ve been playing fast-pitch since I was about 7 or 8, so going out for slow-pitch was a lot different. I’ve had to break down my hitting mechanics and learn to hit the ball better because fast-pitch (pitches) are so fast that you don’t really know what’s going on. slow-pitch has given me opportunities to work with (Heather) Carver to really break down my hitting for fast-pitch season.

PR: How were you first introduced to softball?

NC: I used to play soccer when I was really young, and my parents were like, “Do you want to try a different sport?” My brother played soccer and baseball, so it was kind of in the family already. I tried softball and ended up falling in love with it. I played for the Washougal Little League team, then started joining travel teams and went from there.

PR: What challenges have you overcome to get to where you’re at today?

NC: I used to be terrible about beating myself up and getting in my own head during the games. It kind of put me into a slump, to where I was kind of like, ‘Why am I playing?’ But now I’m just having so much fun that I don’t even realize that anymore. I’m really bonding with a lot of the underclassmen on the team along with (girls from) my own class, and that’s made it a lot more enjoyable to keep playing every day and get better. The more experience I got, the older I got, I realized that I’m out here for fun and I don’t need to beat myself up as much. I’m surrounded by a good group of girls who have my back.

PR: How would you describe your experience with the Clark College Running Start program and full-time online learning?

NC: It’s definitely challenging. At the start of my junior year I had to teach myself to be productive and not procrastinate as much, especially when I didn’t have a teacher telling me what to do every day. It’s a lot of reading, and very structured, but in the end I really enjoy it because it opens up my schedule and I don’t feel as tired sitting in a classroom all day. I feel more productive now that I’ve got the hang of it.

PR: What are your post-graduation plans?

NC: I’m still trying to figure all of that out. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, talking with my family. I’m very in-between about what I want to do. I kind of started aiming towards dental, now I’m (thinking about) cosmetology, so I’m really trying to narrow that down and figure out if I’m going to go into a trade or go to college.

PR: Do you have any other hobbies or interests outside of softball?

NC: During quarantine, I found a new hobby. I’m really good at painting, apparently. Whenever I’m stressed with school or anything, I sit in my room and paint or draw, and it helps me relax. I had some supplies at my house, and one day I said, “I’m going to paint,” and I started painting more and more every day. Everyone kept asking, “Where did you get your painting abilities from?” and I was like, “‘I have no clue.” I’m very into cartoon painting. I feel that’s my best ability. I haven’t quite mastered realistic styles yet. I’ll go online and get some inspiration and make it my own from there. (Paintings) are all over the wall in my room at my mom’s house, so I’ll have to start finding another place to put all of them.