‘Aggressive’ is Russell’s middle name

There is one word anyone who knows Bronwyn Russell uses when describing the way she plays basketball: Aggressive.

For the past three years, South Whidbey’s Russell — a 5-5 senior point guard — has used this aspect of her on-court personality to keep a fire burning for a team that has fallen on hard times in terms of its win-loss record.

Since becoming the starting varsity point guard for the Falcon varsity team as a sophomore, Russell has been part of a squad that has amassed a 19-43 overall record and has made it to the district tournament once. She has played under three different head coaches since joining the team her freshman year, and has welcomed over a dozen new players to the varsity lineup as each year’s graduation took veteran team members.

All this considered, Russell says it’s been a pretty good three years. That’s because playing basketball doesn’t necessarily come down to how many wins and losses her team had. The important part, she said, was that she was able to play.

“I care so much about it,” she said as her senior season came to an end last week. “I put so much of myself into it.”

The Falcons, who had been in playoff contention much of the season, lost the last two games of the season to lose their shot at a playoff appearance. Yet, even in a 54-45 loss to Meridian on Feb. 20 and a 52-48 loss to Lynden Christian Feb. 17 — the games that knocked them out of the playoff picture — there were small victories. Though not known as a team that often makes a fourth-quarter comeback, the Falcons, led by Russell, didn’t make it easy on their North Cascades Conference competition.

“You want them to pay for those last two minutes they’re beating you,” Russell said.

Throughout the season, Russell lived this attitude. Even in games in which her team was down by more than 10 points, fans who watched closely could see Russell’s face harden, her pace quicken, and her dashes into the lane grow more physical.

Though she was often one of the smaller and younger players on the court, Russell — who is a 17-year-old senior — was likely one of the toughest. In Jan. 17 game against Blaine, Russell took three hard falls onto the boards, suffering a mild concussion on the last. Benched for much of the second half, she still asked to get back into the game: Only her coach and the school’s athletic trainer were able to hold her back.

This sticktoitiveness is standard in all parts of Russell’s life. A Greenbank resident who spent her grade school years in Coupeville schools, she transferred to South Whidbey as a freshman. Since setting foot in South Whidbey High School, she has played three sports every year and has built a 4.0 GPA. As a volleyball player in the fall, she found success with a team that steadily improved over four years to make a state appearance in 2003. In her spring sport, fastpitch softball, Russell has been a second baseman for a team that made it to the state title game in 2002. She also plays fastpitch year round with select traveling teams.

Her coaches in all three sports have consistently remarked on Russell’s intensity. This basketball season, Falcon head coach Howard Collier relied heavily on her to set the pace for the team’s games, especially when South Whidbey fell behind.

“That girl, she never quits,” he said in an interview in January.

This season, Russell averaged about 12 points a game for South Whidbey, twice scoring 20 or more. A leader on the floor for her team, she inspires through both deed and word. Vocal and physically expressive, she said she didn’t have trouble making her opinion known to her teammates, coaches and, occasionally, officials. At the same time, she said, she knew she had to keep her attitude positive.

“I’m the example,” she said.

Jordan Tobler, another senior starter with the Falcons and one of Russell’s volleyball teammates, confirms that image. She said Russell’s aggressive nature was always there as an inspiration, not as an impediment.

“She never gave up,” she said. “Without her, I don’t think our plays would have worked.”

Providing consistency to an offense that changed nearly every season under different coaches, Russell had hoped she and her teammates would make 2004 the year they would go back to the playoffs. But that goal was one of a very few that Russell had to let go as the wins failed to come at season’s end. The last time the Falcons were there was 2002.

As her high school basketball career ended last week, Russell thought back on the best moments of her career. The one that floats to the top was one of those rare, last-second plays that saved a game. Though she doesn’t remember the opponent, she does remember standing in the offensive end with about 10 seconds left on the clock with her team down by two watching an inbounded ball get knocked away from teammate Lindsay Binford. Russell grabbed the ball as it was getting knocked around, then made the shot at the buzzer to take the game into overtime — an overtime the Falcons wound up winning.

Beyond basketball, Russell said she is looking forward to her final semester of high school and one more fastpitch season. After that, she said, comes college. Thus far, she has talked to a few coaches at a few schools, but has yet to decide where she will go to learn and play.

Editor’s note: “The Playmakers is an occasional series that highlights standout athletes in the South Whidbey community.

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