Cougars speedster makes move to lefty

The opponents on Trinity Lutheran’s softball schedule this spring might not recognize Taylor Russell at first.

This is her fourth season in the starting line-up for the Cougars, but she has switched from batting right-handed throughout her career to batting left-handed this spring.

“I used to bat right-handed but I’ve switched around to left-handed,” she said. “The reason I’ve switched to left-handed is because I’m playing softball next year in Concordia Wisconsin. I talked to the coach up there and we decided it was best for me to hit left-handed completely.

“I’m learning how to slap. I’ve learned how to bunt and I’ve learned how to hit. We’re real excited for this year because the teams aren’t going to expect me to hit left-handed since they’ve seen me for three years righty. It’s going to be a new surprise for them.”

While difficult, Russell has found success with the changes.

“It was definitely a challenge at first,” Russell said. “I did have a positive because I’m naturally left-handed so it was a little easier for me to turn around than other girls probably, but it was still a challenge to make it comfortable.”

One of Russell’s biggest strengths is her speed, and she said she enjoys the running game.

“Last year I tied for stolen bases on the team,” Russell said. “As soon as the ball comes out of her hands is when you want to get off the bag.

“Usually you want to plan to leave when she’s at the top of her windup. If you wait to leave at her release you’re going to be late so I plan to leave when she gets to the top of her windup so I’m pushing off when she gets to her release.”

Last spring Russell batted either second or third throughout the season.

“I’m usually at the top,” Russell said. “I do like batting at the top. Sometimes it’s hard if you’re seeing the pitcher for the first time. You don’t know what to expect until you get up there.”

Russell says tries to get on base any way she can, and uses her speed as much as she can.

“I’m not a power hitter,” Russell said. “I usually do ‘small ball’ so I’m just trying to make contact. When I hit the ball (into the ground) it slowly rolls to second or shortstop so then it is just an easy run to first.”

On defense, Russell feels that the hardest part of playing center field is judging line drives and trying to figure out how the wind is going to affect the ball.

Russell said she counts on the other two outfielders to tell her whether to charge the ball or go back.

“The wind really affects the ball,” she said. “We have to talk a lot in the outfield about the wind because usually every game we’re affected by the wind. You really have to get around the ball because it may look like it is coming right at you, but it can move five feet to the right or left.”

Out deep, Russell looks to makes big plays.

“I love defense,” Russell said. “We do a lot of situational stuff on defense during practice. Practice is where we can learn our strengths and how far we can throw, and you want to hit your cutoffs.

“When I first came here Trinity did not have a strong outfield. My freshman year they put me in center field. It was kind of nerve wracking because I was playing with all the older girls.”

Last year, Russell helped the Cougars win a sectional title on the diamond.

“Softball at Trinity has really been amazing,” Russell said. “I like the fact that it’s like a smaller team because a lot of schools have bigger teams. You get a lot more one-one-one at practice time with the coaches. I just love the whole sport of softball. I love playing with the team, I love the coaches and I love the atmosphere of softball.”

Looking to repeat as champions, the Cougars know they will have to peak at the right time in the season.

“When the sectional comes I think we’re going to be one of the better teams in our sectional,” Russell said. “We’re going to have to keep focused in practice and keep working hard and pushing ourselves.”

The senior has enjoyed attending Trinity Lutheran.

“I like that I get more one-on-one time with the teachers,” Russell said. “I’ve really liked to be able to grow as an individual, as a team, and being a leader and being able to help other girls.”

Russell file

Name: Taylor Russell

School: Trinity Lutheran High School

Parents: Don and Beth Russell

Siblings: Ally

Sports: softball 4 years, volleyball 2 years, basketball 1 year

Athletic highlights: 2016 sectional champions

Organizations: National Honor Society, choir, musical, student ambassadors

Plans after high school: Attend Concordia University Wisconsin, play softball

Favorite food: pizza

Favorite TV show: Friday Night Lights

Favorite singer: Megan Trainor

Favorite movie: If I Stay

Favorite athlete: Monica Abbot

Author photo
Arv Koontz is a sports correspondent for The (Seymour) Tribune.