By Joe Passero
Many high school seniors are currently in the midst of a high-pressure scramble to find out if and where they will continue their education. Hailey Russell, however, knows she is coming to Rider next fall.
Russell was born in 2001 in Willingboro, New Jersey, and was raised by her mother in Riverside, New Jersey, where she also lived with an older sister and her twin sister, Hannah Russell. At age 4, the twins began playing soccer, basketball and T-ball. At age 7, the twins started playing on the New Jersey Real travel team in Medford and continued to compete in the three sports through middle school and into high school.
While taking the next step in her education by starting at Riverside High School, the twins tried out for the soccer team. Both made the varsity team their freshman year as starters for soccer. Hailey Russell was positioned on the offense as a striker. In her rookie season at Riverside, she scored an impressive 37 goals with several assists from her sister, who became the team’s sweeper.
“It was evident from the start that they had really great skills when it came to soccer, and they were just really great players from the start,” said Riverside Rams girls soccer coach Katie Morton.
Hailey Russell looked to make her second year with the Rams even better but, after scoring 18 goals early in the season, a fractured ankle sidelined her for the remainder of the season.
“It was in the middle of a game,” said Morton. “She fractured it in two spots. I remember her trying to play through it. She would go down and get back up. She’s so tough.”
Hailey Russell expressed her frustration reflecting on her inability to finish her sophomore season.
“I had to focus on getting better. I went four days a week at Strive Rehab and worked with my school trainer to get me back quicker,” Hailey Russell said.
Her hard work paid off, and she was back in time for the start of the winter basketball season. She scored over 200 points that season. In the spring, she competed in her second season on the varsity softball team.
Still, after missing half of what was her second season in her high school soccer career, Hailey Russell came back to the field with a vengeance in her junior year, scoring 60 goals — more than her past two seasons combined. Suddenly, she was just 35 goals away from tying the Riverside High School soccer record for most career goals.
As senior year approached, offers flooded in from colleges to play soccer for their teams. Rider was one of those schools.
“I loved the atmosphere, the coaches and teammates,” Hailey Russell said. “I’m really exciting. It’s going to be way different.”
Before committing to a college, Russell still had one season left with the Rams. She continued to score high numbers, and the tally crept closer to the school record of 150 career goals. At season’s end, she scored 160 goals and became the new record-holder.
In the midst of her final year at Riverside, Hailey Russell had already begun to reflect on her impressive high school athletics career. The one thing she said she will miss the most is playing alongside her sister, who also sports an impressive record, with 15 career assists and eight career goals.
“Since [Hannah is] a defender, I always go against her,” Hailey Russell said. “She knows me so well, so I’ll always have to take it a step further and learn different things. It’s definitely going to be weird and a big change, but I’ll be able to visit her. She’s been by my side through everything and we’re always together. She makes me a better player, teammate and all-around person.”
Hailey Russell will take the field with the Rider Broncs for the first time in August. One of her first games with Rider will be against St. Francis, where she will face off against Hannah Russell for the first time in her life.
The sisters’ showdown is scheduled with a tentative date of Aug. 27 at Ben Cohen Field at Rider. So how will Hailey Russell treat her sister on game day?
“She’s any other player on the field,” Hailey Russell said.
To watch an exclusive short film on Hailey Russell, visit theridernews.com.
Published in the Feb. 6 edition.