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Kelly Hill | NCAA.com | November 23, 2013

Jackie Russell aiming for excellence

HOLLAND, Mich. -- Five years ago, as a senior at Newbury Park High School, Jackie Russell sat at the table in the office of Cal Lutheran coach Kellee Roesel. Russell was trying to decide where to continue her academic and volleyball careers when Roesel asked her a question. “I’m here to win the national championship; are you in?”

Russell was in, and that dream she shared with Roesel five years ago could come true Saturday night when the Regals play the Calvin Knights for the NCAA III national title at Hope's DeVos Fieldhouse.

“On my first recruiting trip, I remember vividly sitting at the table with Coach and she said, ‘I want to win the national championship if you want to be on board.’ She said, ‘I want to win nationals,’ and I thought, ‘Well, so do I. I’m coming here.’”

So Russell spent her collegiate career in her hometown of Thousand Oaks, but it has not been easy. Just two preseason matches into the 2012 season, she broke her left wrist in a fluke collision with a teammate and missed the rest of the year. “My teammate, the middle blocker, went up early while I waited for the block and she hit my wrist. The doctor said it was a one-in-a-million chance of happening the way it did. Most injuries like that you can tape up, but this was a spiral break so I had to get three screws in it, and they’re still in it.

“Her hand hit my wrist and my doctor said, ‘I can’t believe it happened the way it did, just because of her contact.’ I’ve never been injured my whole life,” Russell said. “I’ve never had anything happen to me.”

Russell, who majored in exercise science and who now is a graduate student, attempted to come back late last year, but lingering pain prevented her from playing. “It was mentally tough,” she said. “I was definitely depressed for quite some time, but I stuck by my team every game. I was there, but I had a cast on. I couldn’t brush my hair for a while, so it was difficult for a little bit. I’m right-handed though, so unfortunately I still had to put in my school work.”

She just could not let her volleyball career end that way. “This feels absolutely amazing,” Russell said Friday night, after the Regals beat Wisconsin-Stevens Point 3-0 in the semifinals. “I can’t believe that we’re actually here. This is the reason I came back. I came back to have one more season playing with my sisters, my team. I love them so much. I came back to win nationals."