In every Penn women's basketball game, there are inevitably many instances of physical play. Players jostle for position, rebounds, and loose balls all game long.
But regardless of who the Quakers play, there's always one person right in the thick of the action: Ashley Russell.
The junior guard is the textbook definition of a hustle and grit player. She gives 100 percent effort on every single play and isn't afraid to sacrifice her body to get a teammate an extra look. In fact, she does it without hesitation several times each game.
"It's kind of been my style all along," Russell said. "In high school I was a point guard, but I would still be a rebounding guard kind of. And I mean being a taller guard, it helps, but I always just find myself in the key trying to get any loose ball that I can, anything to get us an extra possession."
And it's not like she falls to the ground lightly. Russell goes down hard each time, and you can hear the smack regardless of where you are in the gym. But without fail, she pops back up and brushes it off like nothing happened.
But in her mind, there's no other way to think about it.
"Honestly, my teammates just come over and help me up and I kind of just move on," Russell said. "I've never really thought, 'I just fell, that's gotta hurt.' It's always just, 'gotta move on to the next one.'"
It doesn't matter how well the Braintree, Mass. native is playing either; she always approaches the game the same way. In last week's 74-59 win over Temple, she established new career highs in points (19) and rebounds (nine), but she was still flying around the court, coming out of nowhere to contest what should have been easy rebounds for the Owls and forcing several turnovers.
Russell has garnered a bit of a reputation on the team by now for her fearless play. Even at practice, they all note how willing she is to put her body in harm's way to make a play.
"I know in the [Villanova] game, she knocked down seven chairs, and everyone just stopped and stared at her the whole time," senior guard Lauren Whitlatch said. "Things like that we can always count on. She’ll be there. She’s going to give up her body to get the ball and help us in whatever way it is.”
"The game at Temple the other night, she went into the crowd and came out with the ball three or four times," coach Mike McLaughlin added. "That’s what separates her. She’s tough, she’s competitive, nothing is going to stop her. She’s not scared of anything, she’s a winner.”
In the games, Russell is exactly the type of player who can provide a spark to a struggling team. By putting in the extra effort, the guard can swing the tide of a game with just one rebound, one steal, or one hustle play.
But despite all the wear-and-tear that comes with her playing style, Russell has never sustained any major injuries. Nor has she ever thought about adjusting the way she plays — the hard hits have done nothing to convince her to play more cautiously.
"People tell me I fall I lot more than I think, but I find bruises all the time, I'm not really surprised," Russell said.
And why should she be? After all, that's the way she likes to play.
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