Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — Braiden Collins still remembers walking into Huntington High School’s gym to watch Lydia Bridenbaugh play basketball.
Bridenbaugh, a 2008 graduate and one of the best players to ever grace Huntington’s hallways, ended her career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,576 points.
Back in those days, when she watched Bridenbaugh play, Collins was just a little girl with a dream — one that centered around Bridenbaugh as her role model.
But that little girl with a dream is now all grown up and the player she strived to be like most has made room for her successor at the top of Huntington’s all-time scoring list.
Needing eight points to break Bridenbaugh’s scoring record, Collins scored 22 in Thursday’s 68-64 win over Fairfield in a Division III sectional semifinal. The senior now boasts of 1,591 career points, the most any player — boy or girl — has ever claimed at Huntington.
“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Collins said of the feat. “I remember coming to the games when I was younger and watching Lydia play. I just remember thinking about how good she was and about how I wanted to be like her. Now that I’m actually in this position, it’s unreal.”
Throughout her career, Collins has consistently used her defense to create offense. In fact, last season, she broke the school and SVC’s single-season steals record with 151, which happened to come alongside the school’s single-season scoring record of 556 points.
This year, for good measure, she added the school and conference’s single-game steals records to her resume with 13, coming on Dec. 22, 2018 against South Webster.
“A lot of my scoring has come from my defense, so playing defense is really important to me,” Collins said. “I love getting into the passing lanes. Ever since the beginning of my career, defense was something I was good at.”
She’s good at a lot of things.
“Braiden is one of the best kids I have ever had the pleasure to coach. I couldn’t be more proud of the young lady that she is,” Huntington coach Tiffany Carroll said. “She has the kind of quickness that you just don’t see everyday. She tries to lead by example. She’s little, but she’s tough. That’s something I really admire about the way she plays the game.”
“Small but mighty” could describe Collins. “Mighty to save” could describe her motivation in basketball … and in life.
God has given Collins her talent. Collins has taken advantage of her gifts.
“I feel everything I’ve done with basketball wouldn’t be possible without God,” Collins said. “So why not give God the credit? He gave me my talent to be able to do everything. I never stop praying on the court. I’m always talking to Him.”
The Huntsmen sit at 17-6 overall alongside a 12-2 mark in SVC action. Over the course of her 22 regular season games, Collins held averages of 24 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 6.1 steals per game.
She led the conference in scoring and steals while ranking eighth in rebounds, seventh in assists and fourth in free throw percentage at 71 percent.
Those efforts made up Collins’ SVC Player of the Year campaign as she became the fifth player in program history to win the honor.
But it’s not the numbers or the awards that make Collins special.
“As good as she is, she is coachable. She takes direction and has a true desire to do things the right way. She’s willing to do whatever we need her to do,” Carroll said. “Those qualities will take her places, not only in basketball, but in life. She’s the kind of kid some never get the pleasure to coach and I consider myself lucky to have had her for two years.”
After Thursday’s win over Fairfield, the No. 6 seeded Huntsmen now face No. 3 Wheelersburg in a Division III sectional final at 6 p.m., Saturday.
Collins has high hopes for a lengthy tournament run.
“I feel like our team has came a long way,” Collins said. “We’re executing things better and I feel like we know we have a lot of potential. I think anyone on our team can come in clutch.”
Whenever the end of the road does come, Collins will be saying goodbye to one of the most important chapters of life she’s ever written.
But the accomplishments that she’s earned while painting her masterpiece … those things will live on in school history. If you ever need a reminder, just look into the rafters. There, her name and her point total will stand forever, always signifying the legacy she left.
“I’m not ready for this year to end at all. Basketball is something I’ve been a part of since elementary school,” Collins said. “But I couldn’t have asked for a better senior season. Just the people who have been a part of it and the things that I’ve accomplished … I wouldn’t change any of it.”