Sitting on the sideline during volleyball games last season, an injured Lauren Russ, or “Lo,” as she’s known as to her teammates and coach, studiously analyzed every move both Valencia and the opposing teams made.
When a timeout was called, the Vikings would report to Russ, who provided instructions for the next portion of the match.
“She was devastated that she would miss the season, but once she kind of got over that initial shock and the sadness, she really took on the role of assistant coach she was super engaged in the games,” said coach Ray Sanchez.
After the 2015 season, Russ was an All-Foothill League first team outside hitter with 316 kills and 75 aces.
The next preleague, she fractured her tibia and was headed toward a seven-month rehab process before she could play again.
“It was a really hard couple months,” Russ said, “but I knew I was on a mission and I had to get back just to my old self and be even better.”
Now, she’s physically recovered and is armed with the knowledge she gained from watching countless matches last season.
The Vikings are currently 4-2 overall and 1-1 in the Foothill League, with Hart being their only league loss thus far.
Russ led that match in digs with 20 and added another 20 kills. Fellow outside hitter Lauryn Shockley was close behind with 14 kills, but exceeded her in digs with 34 and also added four aces.
The effectiveness of Valencia’s pins, a group that also includes Jessica Throckmorton and Aly Grodell, is keeping the team going.
“Our pins … we’ve been crushing it, our hitting numbers have been super high,” Shockley said. “And the setters are giving us great balls. Our passing has been great lately and it’s just been kind of working altogether as a team.”
The Vikes have a challenging week ahead of them, starting with West Ranch tonight, which was Valencia’s co-champion of the Foothill League last season.
The following day, they take on Saugus, a rising power who beat the Wildcats in its league opener.
“We have talked a lot about how (we can) focus a little bit harder on each point and be aggressive and just really controlling what we can do on our side,” Russ said. “I think that’s what’s really going to help us and it has helped us.”
Controlling what she could has helped Russ build on the skill and smarts she already had. Combined with her drive to make up for last year’s absence, she, and the Vikings, have a high ceiling this season.