March 20, 2007
By Robin Martin
Auburn Media Relations
It's rare that you see a pro athlete show up in the NBA, the Major Leagues or the NFL and earn a starting position their rookie season. Unless you're LeBron or Cadillac or A-Rod, you're probably going to be a member of the practice squad for a while. It's just the way it is when everyone is exceptional. It's a waiting game and it's about perseverance, heart and love for the game.
Granted, this isn't the pros. But in the world of softball, it's pretty close to it. And senior Nicole Russo has played the waiting game long enough. It's been three long years of conditioning, practice and patiently waiting for her opportunity. And unexpectedly, it arrived in dramatic fashion.
The Auburn softball team suffered an unexpected blow in January when it lost its starting third baseman of the past three seasons. A position that had been unquestionably nailed down was suddenly up for grabs. After a mad dash to fill the all-important position, the corner hot-spot is now in good hands - really good hands.
Russo has come a long way. As a freshman she utilized her red-shirt season, she played in 31 games as a sophomore and 28 as a junior, used mostly as a pinch runner. Now a senior, Russo has already competed in 27 of the team's 31 games, starting 15 at third base. And she's not just a stand-in. Her defense has been stellar. She has proven to anyone who had any doubts that she deserves to be where she's at.
"I definitely had to go back and find my confidence again," Russo said. "Sitting out plays on that and I think it's something that most people in my situation struggle with. You're used to being the star, and when you're not you tend to lose your confidence, and when that happens, you don't play as well. It's like a downward spiral, but you find ways to deal with it."
In her 15 starts and 38 defensive chances, she has yet to commit an error. Her consistency on the corner continues to impress and rebuild confidence in herself and the staff.
"It's so good to see her succeed," head coach Tina Deese said. "She was thrown into a tough situation, but she's stepped up to the challenge. She's done an excellent job defensively and has taken on a huge leadership role. She's a charismatic leader for us and a lot of the girls look up to her. She gets the job done and I'm happy to see her out there."
The 2007 Auburn softball team boasts the toughest schedule in team history. The 58-game regular season schedule includes 18 opponents who advanced to an NCAA Regional Tournament last year, and the SEC is slowly becoming one of the most competitive conferences in college softball with six of its teams ranked 24 or higher. It's been a heavy load to bear and the shoes she had to fill were enormous, but judging from her flawless play on defense, Russo isn't feeling much pressure.
"I don't want to say it was lucky," she said, "but what you do with that first play can make you or break you. The first few plays I made were good and I just got this resurgence of confidence. You just build on it and one thing leads to another. At this level, your fundamentals are here. It has everything to do with your mind."
When Nicole was younger she ...
Collected erasers and rocks.
Was the only girl in a tackle football league and her team won the championship.
Was very into Spandex and would only wear biker shorts.
Competed in the Junior Olympics in the pentathlon.
Wanted to play hockey, so she played alone in her driveway.
Took keyboard lessons and mastered "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
Loved the elephant Babar.
Took ballet, tap, jazz, tumbling, gymnastics and baton lessons.
Took tennis lessons.
Was a pole vaulter.
She wants to ...
Go to dental school to become a maxillofacial surgeon, an oral surgeon or an orthodontist.
Go bungee jumping and solo skydiving - she has already conquered the tandem.
Go to the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.