Nicole Rollins could have been a lawyer.
But the Eagle softball coach prefers mowing the field grass or claying the circle, as opposed to paperwork and court appearances. The program is sure glad she feels that way too.
Rollins is 108-10-1 (90.7 percent) with a district and two state championships in her four seasons at the helm. She will look to add to her already impressive resume when the Mustangs (22-5) go for their fourth title in five years and ninth overall when the 5A State Tournament begins today at Post Falls High School.
They play undefeated Lake City (25-0) in the opening round at 11 a.m.
“I always felt bad because I never felt she got the credit she was due through all this,” said ex-Eagle and current Weber State softball player Hailey Fisher. “Other coaches and parents in the valley weren’t very nice to her, saying she was handed a team full of talent. Yeah we had talent, but sometimes it can be a harder challenge to coach not just one standout player but a whole team of them. It’s not as easy as people think. She knows her game and she knows how to bring it out of her players.”
Rollins had just graduated from the College of Idaho, where she played both volleyball and softball, when she was gearing up for law school. She was saving up money by working as a real estate agent for Homes of Idaho in Nampa.
But that all changed with a phone call on April 5, 2006. Rollins was sitting at her desk when an ex-player of hers in Burley rang. She said her mom and grandfather had been involved in a car accident.
Rollins spoke with her mother, Sharla Bessire, a few hours earlier. The two had also just gone on a trip to Las Vegas days earlier.
“I’m thinking like a fender bender,” Rollins said.
Rollins’ grandfather, Raymond Bean, was driving. The vehicle he and Bessire were traveling in went too fast around a corner. The car hit an embankment, flipped and landed upside down in an empty canal. The canal was full of water a week later.
It took first responders an hour and a half to cut Bean out of the car. He coded in the back of an ambulance about 30 minutes later.
Bessire broke her back, jaw, femur and wrist.
“It was pretty devastating. I think I just cried on my living room floor like a baby for hours,” Rollins said. “Suddenly, all those important days that you had to go hit, aren’t quite so important anymore.”
She was life-flighted to Salt Lake City. It took doctors 13 hours to fuse her T1-T11 vertebrae.
Bessire was in the shock trauma intensive care unit for two weeks before spending the next four months in the hospital. Rollins never left her side. They passed the time by having Rollins sneak in her puppy and with wheelchair races down the hallways.
When Bessire was finally released, Rollins moved in with her for the next year and a half. Rollins had to help her mom, who is a T5 paraplegic, do simple things like get out of bed in the morning and take showers.
But through all of that chaos, Rollins found her love of coaching.
“That was kind of the turning point for me,” Rollins said. “It was something that I could do and take care of my mom.”
Rollins had coaching stints in Burley, Twin Falls and the College of Southern Idaho before someone from her past told her about Eagle.
Kelly Gibbons was Rollins’ softball coach at C of I and an assistant coach on former head coach, Doug Corta’s staff. She knew Rollins wanted out of Twin Falls.
Rollins drove down in November of 2014 and met Corta personally at Bowl of Heaven in Eagle. Corta needed an extra assistant because he was battling a brain tumor at the time.
She said yes.
“My heart just poured for him,” Rollins said.
Corta’s condition grew worse throughout her first season.
He and Rollins met every day for coffee at 10 a.m. and raked the field. Rollins brought her dog over to cheer him up on the bad days. She even stayed with him and his wife when Corta entered hospice care.
Eagle won the state title in their first and only season together in May of 2015.
Corta died on Nov. 6, 2015.
Rollins found out at 1 in the morning in a text message.
“I don’t know that you ever learn how to deal with those kind of events,” Rollins said. “It’s easy to put up a straight face and act like you’re fine. But I was far from it. I loved that man.”
Rollins held batting practice at the request of the players the day after his funeral. But she didn’t want to be the next head coach.
“It was his job,” Rollins said. “He had been there for so long that it didn’t feel right.”
But pleas from players and community members changed her mind. She was hired in January of 2016.
The Mustangs went undefeated on their way to another state championship that season. They went 29-0 and earned the No. 1 spot in the CBS MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national softball rankings. It was the first and only time a team from Idaho has been the top-ranked team in the country.
“When Nicole came in, she helped ease everyone’s grief a little bit and she helped direct everyone’s focus to still be on softball and being the best that they could that year, while still playing for Doug in their hearts,” senior pitcher Siera Horton said. “She came in at a very difficult time and did a lot of great things. As a first-year coach, I think she handled it all exceptionally well. I don’t know if anyone could have done what she did that season.”
The rest is history.
Rollins led Eagle to a third straight and the eighth overall state championship in program history in 2017. She almost made history last year.
The Mustangs fell just short of becoming the first team to win four state championships in a row in a 6-5 loss to Boise in the title game. It took eight innings for them to finally go down.
But they're right back in contention this season.
Eagle won a share of the 5A Southern Idaho Conference title for the fifth consecutive year. The Mustangs have won 12 out of their last 13 games and averaged 13 runs per game during that stretch.
“She’s such a trooper,” senior outfielder Noelle Foster said. “She has faced a lot of adversity, no one should have to go through a situation like that. She’s taken what she’s been through and turned it into something positive.”
Rollins’ affect on the program goes much deeper than the box scores or record books.
She talked with Foster underneath the press box about things that had nothing to do with softball for more than an hour. She threw to Horton after practice during a hitting slump, and gave advice on the phone to Fisher, who is 317 miles away in Ogden, Utah.
“To me, it’s not about the scoreboard. It’s not about winning and how many titles you have, but really getting to be there for a kid,” Rollins said. "It’s about what kind of people you have created to come out of here. I definitely don’t get it right all the time or maybe even half the time. But if you get it right even once in a while, you inspire that one kid, or that one person that hears your story.”
And to think she wanted to be a lawyer.
“It would be pretty sweet to be a sports and entertainment lawyer, that’s where I was headed, but I think I’ll stick with hitting with my kids and mowing the lawn,” Rollins said.