Russell's got hustle

By and large, seniors provide the backbone of a varsity high school team.

Coming into the 2002-2003 campaign, the Spartan girls basketball team was in an unusual position – there weren’t any seniors turning out for the squad.

However, the lack of age didn’t mean there was a lack of returning leadership – like that exhibited by 16-year-old Alice Russell.

“It’s like we’re on a two-year program, leading the team,” Russell said of her fellow Spartan juniors.

“We have to step up, and I think we’re doing it.”

Although a back injury has kept the Spartans’ 6-1 forward-post from storming into her junior campaign with the ferocity she was hoping to exhibit, Russell says she’d rather take the focus away from the injury – just focus on basketball.

Ironically, it was an injury that gave Russell her first varsity stint as a freshman two years ago.

At that time, senior starter Alexis Kimball went down with a season-ending knee injury the second game of the season, forcing Bainbridge coach Penny Gienger to look to the junior-varsity ranks to add some strength to the Spartan varsity.

Russell’s minutes were elevated even more as the season wore on, to provide senior Emily Pierce, then playing through a back problem, some valuable rest time.

Russell took the challenge – just like she and her fellow junior classmates – Morgan Zajonc, Haley Wiggins, Tucker Hugett, Toren Johnson, Malerie Romero, Lee Maloney and Tiana Gallagher – are taking on the challenge of a season without seniors.

Growing up watching her older brother Clint excel on the courts of Oregon – earning league MVP honors as a high school senior in McMinnville – Russell caught the basketball bug as a sixth-grader, playing for AAU teams in Oregon until the family moved to Bainbridge prior to Russell’s freshman year.

Outside of Spartan basketball, Russell tried track and field as a freshman and played volleyball for two years.

Oh, and then there’s more basketball. Russell participates in the year-round “Players Only” program in Seattle, coached by Tony Giles. That can amount to five to seven trips a week to the mainland for more basketball. Of course, Players Only tones down a bit during the high school season.

There’s no questioning Russell’s desire to keep playing the game, and she says she’d like to play at the college level. But that’s a couple years away. Right now, Russell needs to keep her sights on the Metro League season and, hopefully, the playoffs.

“Everyone’s beating everyone now,” Russell said. “There’s no one team way out in front.”

And the Metro League may be, arguably, the toughest league in the state from which to advance to post-season play.

“Winning our league might be tougher than winning state,” Russell said.

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