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Harrison Collins' long, unique journey

Collins has come full circle after skipping last two seasons

Posted: March 17, 2014 9:21 p.m.
Updated: March 17, 2014 9:21 p.m.

West Ranch senior Harrison Collins was a CIF individual qualifier as a freshman, but he chose not to attend the school his sophomore and junior year.

 

Every time Harrison Collins steps onto the tennis court, his mind kicks into overdrive.

Not surprising for a guy who plans to be an astrophysicist, calls himself a romanticist and personally identifies with Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelly’s classic novel “Frankenstein.”

“I’m a little bit different from most people in a few ways,” Collins says. “I’ve taken my own path for a long time.”

The West Ranch senior’s journey up to this point has been anything but normal.

After playing for the Wildcats his freshman year and making it to the Foothill League singles finals and into the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Individual Tournament, Collins left West Ranch in his sophomore and junior years.

His mother, Shelly, had bought a farm near Olympia, Wash. and Collins felt that his school schedule was holding him back.

“I wanted to pursue tennis more rigorously because I was hoping to make a push to my (United State Tennis Association) ranking and get some more experience and have some more flexible hours than I had,” Collins says. “I felt like school was dictating my tennis schedule to the point where I was struggling.”

So for two years Collins and his mother would travel back and forth while he took online classes through the California Virtual Academy.

And while he loved Washington (where he plans to return after high school to attend South Puget Sound Community College, transfer to the University of Washington and get his Ph.D. in astrophysics) he found that he was procrastinating in his online classes and becoming antisocial. So he made the decision to come back to West Ranch for his senior year.

“Being back with the team, the social aspect was part of it, but really the biggest thing was I could have fun with a bunch of guys who shared my interest,” he says. “I found that I missed that part and I really enjoyed coming back and being with them.”

The feeling was mutual as his team and coach were happy to have him back as well.

“We heard rumors that he might come back during the summer and the team started getting very excited,” says West Ranch head coach Eric Spiecker. “He’s very mature, very cerebral with his tennis. And there’s a commitment and a focus that he brings that’s equally as valuable as his talent.”

Now as Collins prepares for league play to start, he’s back to doing what he does best: analyzing everything within the lines of the tennis court.

“Tennis is a science to me,” he says. “I don’t think about how many RPMs am I going to need to get on the tennis ball to get it to go where I want it. But I can make assessments based on a guy’s technique. The way the ball is spinning, what the wind is doing. I think about all of this.”

And like any good scientist, Collins has his own projects.

For 10 months he researched and tested different strings and grips to get his racquet exactly how he wanted it.

“This is my science project,” he says while holding the racquet in his hands, still fidgeting with the strings.

He finally settled on Yonex Super Grap for his grip, Volkl Cyclone for his strings and added pieces of lead tape around the edges to customize the weight and give him a little bit more stability.

But despite all those hypotheses and racquet customizing, sometimes doubt creeps in.

It’s in those moments of doubt when Collins sees himself in the character of Victor Frankenstein. He relates his struggle with his online schooling to the failure Frankenstein felt with his creation.

“The regret he felt is the same regret I feel whenever I think about my two years off,” he says. “I haven’t forgiven myself for that. And that may sound hard but it’s a way of keeping myself on the straight and narrow.”

But that’s not the only way Collins identifies with Frankenstein.

He also sees their love of nature and science as a shared trait.

“His personality, the way he looks at life, the way he appreciates nature and his scientific mind are all things that I can identify with,” Collins says. “He saw the magic in science. And my main reason for wanting to be a astrophysicist is to be able to use that knowledge to truly appreciate the nature around me.”

And like Frankenstein chasing his monster, Collins is chasing Valencia star junior Chad LeDuff for the top spot in the Foothill League.

“I think everybody is probably looking at them as the one-two players in the league and they want to see it defined,” Spiecker says. “There are a lot of players that matter outside of them, but it’s a rivalry because they play each other in USTA so much.”

Fortunately for the league, they’ll get to see Collins and LeDuff face off at least twice this year on April 3 and again on May 1 when the two teams play each other.

For Collins, his journey back to West Ranch has been long and sometimes difficult, but he wouldn’t change a minute of it.

“Looking back on it, I look at it as an experience worth having,” he said. “And in the end I think I matured a lot and became a better tennis player. And as a team we feel like we have a very good chance to be competitive and win league this year.”

With everything else going on in Collins’ head, something as straightforward as winning a league title could be the most challenging task ahead of him.

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