FAIRBORN — A few days prior to this weekend’s Horizon League opening home softball series against Green Bay, snow was being plowed off the field. Inclement weather is not likely to faze Wright State University junior pitcher Ally Russell after the comeback she has made.
In her freshman season for WSU in 2016, Russell was an ace in the circle with a 10-4 record, including a victory over Big Ten opponent Indiana.
“Playing Indiana was one of my favorite moments of my time here,” Russell said. “It was also 30 degrees and 10 p.m. I remember it was freezing. And every time in the dugout, you’d try to find the heater to get warm. That was a great team win and atmosphere.”
It was also around this time that Russell was lifting one day and sustained a herniated disk injury that lingered through her sophomore year.
“At the end of my sophomore year, I was in a lot of pain. And my family and I decided that it would probably be best to have surgery to fix it,” Russell said.
The surgery was done in June, but instead of a routine recovery there were a few complications Russell dealt with over the next few months.
“I was expecting to be able to walk out of the hospital after surgery and be fine. Instead, I developed more symptoms,” Russell said. “My leg was numb, I couldn’t walk correctly and I had a drop foot. Recovery took a lot longer than expected, but we’re here finally after a long journey.”
Russell says her family and faith have been a significant part of her getting through the recovery process. She also credited her teammates and WSU coach Laura Matthews.
“Coach Matthews said, ‘We need to get you healthy and that’s most important,’” Russell said. “That lifted a lot of stress from me, because I think I just wanted to be here for the team and help them. But if I physically can’t do it, that’s not good. I knew that I didn’t have any pressure coming from her.”
“I just had an injection on Monday, and I think I had five or six texts from my teammates making sure I was OK and if I needed anything. They’ve really helped me through this whole process.”
Matthews praised Russell for her resiliency.
“When athletes go through injuries, they can get frustrated and feel sorry for themselves. It can feel lonely and is often tempting to throw in the towel,” Matthews said. “Ally stayed positive, was a phenomenal teammate and kept working.”
Russell is an organizational leadership major, and has aspirations to be a future softball coach.
“In the fall I couldn’t pitch, so I spent all of my time in the bullpen with the pitchers, talking to them and working on things. I feel more prepared to be a coach,” Russell said.
“When Ally graduates she is going to be a phenomenal coach, and part of the reason why is that she is overcoming injury and has dealt with tremendous adversity,” Matthews said. “Her resiliency, toughness and intellectual ability are exactly what it takes to make a great college coach.”
This season, Russell has pitched sparingly as she continues to build her stamina and rehab her leg. In this role, she has wins over Western Michigan and College of Charleston where she went five innings and didn’t allow an earned run in each outing.
“Ally has exceeded every expectation we’ve had for her this season. She didn’t really have an offseason of work like most college softball players, due to her back injury,” Matthews said. “She is gaining her speed and sharpness in the circle back after her time off, and she just keeps getting better.”
During her collegiate playing career, Matthews was a catcher for Dayton. Russell feels this is ideal for coaching a player at her position.
“She (Matthews) knows exactly what she is talking about and how to talk to me. I like that she listens to me and my body,” Russell said. “It’s hard for coaches to do that sometimes. She is very flexible, and I think it’s great that she is so understanding.”
Russell spoke with plenty of enthusiasm about being back on the field. She is motivated by the idea of returning to her freshman form, which she appears closer to reaching.
“Last season was difficult, because I was hurting a lot more than I was my freshman year. I’m getting there slowly, but think about those things and want to get there,” Russell said.
“Ally will be one of our top pitchers as we begin conference play,” Matthews said. “She will see very important innings for us in the circle and be one of our leaders for a very young team.”
Information courtesy of Wright State University www.wsuraiders.com/.