Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Brookwood senior Maggie Collins is an on- and off-court leader for the Broncos and has the team in contention for another Area title.
SNELLVILLE -- In some ways, Brookwood's Maggie Collins fits the mold of a lot of up and coming high school volleyball players in Gwinnett County.
She started out as an athlete in another sport before discovering volleyball in her freshman year and has blossomed into a major force throughout her career, and has been a cornerstone to a program rising to prominence.
But there is much more about the senior right-side/opposite hitter that allows here to set the mold, rather than merely fit it, not the least of which are her physical abilities on the court.
At 6-foot-2 , Collins definitely casts an impressive presence at the net.
"One thing we call her is a game changer," Brookwood coach Brian Welsch said. "Her ability to put up a big block on the right side changed a lot of teams' offensive strategies against us. ... Her raw ability to block is probably the No. 1 thing that changes things.
"She gets her elbow above the net, which is something that a lot of girls don't do. That takes away a lot of court behind her for us to play defense around. If nothing else, just her presence that high above the net becomes a mental game for the other teams to have to react to."
She's definitely set the bar high with her performance on the court in every aspect of the game for Brookwood over the last two seasons, helping the Broncos to back-to-back Area 8-AAAAA championships and their first two trips to the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals.
Collins had a particular impact last year as a second-team all county selection by the Daily Post, posting 421 kills, 138 blocks, 60 assists, 58 digs and 22 service aces a year ago, and was a major factor in the Broncos' record 38 wins.
And her influence has carried over into this season, where she has had perhaps an even bigger impact than her team-best 56 blocks and 203 kills, second on the team, as Brookwood (18-16, 6-0) heads into the upcoming Area 7-AAAAAA tournament as the top seed following wins over Parkview and Grayson on Tuesday.
As one of only a handful of experienced players following the loss of six seniors from last year's team, Collins knew much more would be expected of her this season.
But the increased leadership role is one she says she relishes.
"I'd much rather be a leader and a role model than to just fit in with everyone else," Collins said.
However, she admits accepting that mantle of leadership was a little scary at first.
"It was hard because I knew this season was going to be different," Collins said. "But I never thought the season wasn't going to be as fun, or we weren't going to do as well. Once again, we have that high standard that we had to work towards, and it was just a new challenge for us to bond."
Still, the loss of last year's six seniors was a particular adjustment for Collins because it was mainly players from that group that talked her into playing volleyball when she was a freshman.
And while it's not unique for an athlete from another sport to take up volleyball and eventually thrive in it, most of the time, it is form a sport require similar skills -- like basketball -- in which such an athlete makes the transition from.
But Collins took a much more unique route, having participated in cheerleading and swimming, where she competed in the breaststroke and freestyle, before being coaxed into volleyball by several of her friends.
"It started when I was a freshman, and I met a bunch of new girls at Brookwood who played volleyball," Collins recalled. "I started doing a bunch of summer camps and academies. The only thing was I was a year behind everyone else. But in all honesty, I think that gave me a higher standard to go to. It was more work I had to put into it, but it always drove me to work harder, so that I (could) catch up to everyone else."
It is that same drive that has helped Collins excel in the classroom, where she carries a 3.97 grade point average with a course load that features several advanced placement courses.
It has also helped her juggle both her academic and athletic commitments, which she hopes to continue in college at either Emory, Ole Miss, Davidson or College of Charleston.
"She's a very hard worker in the classroom," Welsch said. "And she's spent a lot of time learning the game and figuring out the game from an academic standpoint. ... She's picked the game up very quickly."