BLISSFIELD – Avery Collins has played with a broken nose, ankle sprain and a sore back.
Earlier this season, the Blissfield junior was in the emergency room one night and on the basketball floor the next day.
“She texted me first thing in the morning and said, ‘I’m ready to play Coach,’” said Royals head coach Ryan Gilbert. “I said, ‘No, you’re not.’ She was cleared to play, so she played. It’s hard to tell her no.”
Collins is the catalyst behind Blissfield’s 23-1 record heading into tonight’s Division 3 Regional Semifinal against Hanover-Horton at Concord. Already a three-year starter, Collins is a ballhawk on defense, expert dribbler on offense and a competitor all the way.
“I’m constantly talking basketball with people, either my dad, my coach, or even family friends,” Collins said. “I want to make this season so memorable and with the team we have, I knew it was possible.”
When it comes to intensity, Collins has an extra gear. Opposing coaches quickly recognize that.
“Avery is hands down the best player on the court night-in and night-out,” said Onsted head coach Brandon Arnold. “She’s tough. She does so many things for them.”
Blissfield started the season 7-0 before being tripped up by Grand Blanc in the Motor City Roundball Classic. The Royals haven’t lost since, running off 16 straight wins, including in the District championship game Saturday.
Defense has been the key.
Opponents are averaging just 26.5 points a game against the Royals. Seven opponents have scored 21 or fewer points.
Offensively, Blissfield averages four 3-pointers a game, shoots 60 percent from the free throw line and has four players with at least 150 points on the season.
Collins averages 11.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.0 steals a game. She’s sat out several fourth quarters this season as the Royals have had big leads. In the District Semifinal against Erie Mason, she didn’t see the court in the second half.
Gilbert said she sits out more fourth quarters than she would like, but she also knows it makes the team stronger the more experience others get.
“What you wouldn't know if you don't come watch her play is how her energy transfers to the rest of the team and the crowd,” Gilbert said. “Her grit and determination rubs off on everyone around her. I can’t tell you how many times the opponent turns it over because of her defensive pressure. She has pieces around her. She doesn't have to score 20 a game for this team to be successful. She could, but she doesn't have to.”
If the game is close, the ball is in her hands. She shoots 70 percent from the free throw line and has become quite adept at dribbling away from opponents so they can’t foul her with the clock winding down.
“She has the ability to change a game without scoring,” Gilbert said.
Collins missed her AAU season this past summer due to a collarbone injury sustained during soccer season. She missed the early part of soccer with a broken nose that happened in basketball, although she never missed time on the court for it.
The downtime, she said, helped keep her motivated when she was able to get a ball in her hands again.
“I was extra ready to get back,” she said. “We all knew what this team could have in store this season, and that made me want to get better even more.”
Collins put in a lot of work to get ready for this season. Her shooting has improved. She’s made 22 triples, but the bulk of her points come on steals and layups.
“Before the season, my dad and I were doing a strength and conditioning workout almost every night, then after the workout, I’d go shoot at least 500 shots in the gym,” she said. “My dad has pushed me to be the best me that I can be. I’m always looking to put the work in to be better, because not only does it make me better, but it also helps my team as well.”
The Royals have just two seniors, 6-footers Julia White (10.0 points and 10.0 rebounds a game) and Sarah Bettis, a Division 1 volleyball signee with the University of Akron. June Miller leads the team in 3-pointers with 32, and Abrie Louden has been steady all season at both ends of the floor. Freshman Leigh Wyman and sophomore Peyton Tennant have come off the bench all season, ready to provide a spark, especially on defense. The combination has the Royals tied for the lead in Division 3 with 23 wins and ranked No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll.
“Coming into this season, we knew we’d have a real shot at getting the league title,” Collins said. “I believe we will carry this energy as far as we get because of what our possible outcomes are in the state tournament.”
The Royals play well together. They average about 19 field goals made a game – and 14 assists.
Gilbert, in his 15th season as Blissfield coach, calls Collins the ultimate competitor.
“She has a fiery chip on her shoulder,” he said. “She plays her best during the biggest of games. There is an edge about her that few have. She's just wired differently.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s Avery Collins directs her team’s offense this season against Adrian Lenawee Christian. (Middle) Collins gets to the basket; she’s averaging 11 points per game. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne.)
The St. Ignace girls basketball teams is off to a 2-0 start – and great starts and finishes certainly have been the norm over the last 25 seasons under the leadership of head coach Dorene Ingalls and her assistant, and husband, Doug.
Tuesday’s season-opening win over Brimley made Dorene Ingalls 500-94 beginning her 25th season guiding the program – now 501-94 after Thursday’s 63-27 victory over Boyne City. She entered this season 16th on the state list for most girls basketball coaching victories, and seventh among active coaches.
For all 501 wins, Doug Ingalls has been by her side as an assistant within the program – while also serving as boys varsity basketball coach from 1992-2008, 2011-16 and again currently in the fifth season of his latest tenure. His Saints also have opened 2-0, and he has a 355-175 record leading the boys program.
The Ingalls have led the girls program to five MHSAA Finals championships, most recently in Class D in 2015, and four runner-up finishes, most recently in Division 4 in 2019.
Dorene Ingalls received the MHSAA Women In Sports Leadership Award in 2021.
PHOTOS (Top) Doug and Dorene Ingalls, far left and right, respectively, take a photo with 2003 Miss Basketball Krista Clement. (Middle) Dorene and Doug Ingalls. (Photos by David Latva.)