For only the second time in the history of the sport at the school, De Queen is changing softball coaches.
Tracy Nealy, who spent over two decades guiding the team after taking over in the sport’s second year, is going to start a softball program at Rich Mountain Community College in Mena.
Moving into the De Queen head coaching position is Caitlin Collins. “I have played since age four. Ever since I was little, I have always wanted to be a softball coach,” Collins said.
After playing high school ball at Dierks, Collins played at Texas Women’s University and Northeast Texas. She has been at De Queen for two years teaching sixth grade social studies and assisting with senior girls basketball and soccer. “In junior high I played basketball,” she said. “It was fun being an assistant for basketball. I’m glad I got to do it for two years.”
Still her favorite sport is softball. “I like how fast paced it is. You never know what is going to happen next. Every pitch is different,” she explained. “It’s just a fast paced exciting game.”
She inherited her love of the game from her father Chad Lites. “He has coached me since I started in 10 and under,” she said. In fact, Lites was the Dierks High coach during his daughter’s years there.
“Watching him out on the field, I saw his love for it. He’s crazy about the game,” said his daughter.
Lites will be off the field next year. He resigned his post as an assistant coach at De Queen to become principal at Dierks.
“It’s sad that this was his last year,” Collins said, “but he’s got a grandbaby. A few more years and he’ll be back out there.”
In the meantime he’ll be watching his daughter lead her team. This is not Collins’ first experience coaching softball. “I’ve helped with summer tournament teams. I’ve coached fall ball teams,” she said.
Her plan for the Lady Leopards is to start at square one. “You’ve got to start with the basics. You’ve got to have the mechanics,” she explained.
Building leadership and teamwork are priorities. “You have to have girls who are willing to fight for the team. Girls who know their role as a player and will do whatever it takes.”
Collins also plans to devote a large amount of time on the non-physical aspects of the game. “It’s more mental than it is physical. You’ve got to be mentally prepared. If you don’t know the game, you’re in trouble,” she explained. “You have to know what to do and why you’re doing it.”
Five Lady Leopard starters, including pitcher and catcher, graduated. “We’re definitely going to be young. I’m looking for girls who want to be out there, want to be successful, be a part of something bigger,” Collins said.
She noted that winning builds confidence, and De Queen is accustomed to winning. “Coach Nealy has been very successful, especially the last five years,” she noted. “I’m hoping that the girls come in with that experience of expecting to win and want to be just as good or better.”
The 2019 Lady Leopard roster included a large freshman class. The same looks to be true of 2020.
“We have a lot of returners who have seen what De Queen softball is about and can help the younger ones get on track,” Collins pointed out.
“What we are going to be looking for is a pitcher and catcher who will step up and take the lead.”
Collins, who was a pitcher herself, plans to start work for those positions in July. Team practice will begin in August. The Lady Leopards will play fall ball on Tuesday nights at Nashville.
The 2020 season will begin with a trip to Longview, Tex. for a tournament in January.
There is great deal of work to be done before that. The new coach is ready to start. “I’m so excited. I have waited for this moment for years,” Collins said. “I am very anxious to get going.”