CUYAHOGA FALLS: He is the smallest player on the court and the younger, unheralded brother of Walsh Jesuit senior first-team All-Ohio middle blocker Rob Russell.
He is 5-foot-6 sophomore setter Ross Russell, and Saturday little brother played the match of his young career in leading the Warriors to victory in an Ohio High School Boys Volleyball Association (OHSBVA) Division II state semifinal. His 47 assists and game-changing “pancake” dig were paramount in a 3-1 win over Cincinnati Archbishop McNicholas after Walsh Jesuit fell behind 1-0 and trailed 7-1 in game two.
“Ross has the biggest heart,” Walsh Jesuit coach Connor McCluskey said. “He made every right decision today. He called the perfect match today.”
The Warriors appeared almost too excited to start and dropped the first game 25-19. The Rockets came out fast in the second game with their second-team All-Ohio hitter Christian Ray getting three quick kills.
Walsh Jesuit (22-5) needed to flip the momentum and its mighty mite provided the defensive play of the match.
“I didn’t think I was actually going to get there, and then I slid my hand under and got it up,” Ross Russell said.
His “pancake” dig enabled Walsh to win the point and tie the score 10-10. The Warriors won the game 27-25 when senior outside hitter Austin Seislove rallied for three late kills.
“We always need one little spark,” McCluskey said. “Ross got us going. That was the turning point of the match for sure.”
The Warriors kept it rolling in the third game for a 25-17 win. Archbishop McNicholas (13-9) had a 12-9 lead in game four when Ross Russell set his 6-foot-3, all-star brother repeatedly, and Rob Russell (16 kills, four blocks) delivered four quick kills as Walsh pulled even 13-13.
“Being with my brother on the court is really fun,” Ross Russell said. “He calms me down and keeps our team loose.”
On back-to-back kills by Ray, McNicholas led 19-13 in the fourth game. The Warriors buckled down on defense, blocked the Rockets, and ran off six consecutive points. Seislove’s kill closed a 25-23 win and the match.
“It felt pretty awesome to take us to the state championship (match) that way,” Seislove said. “We may have been a little bit too pumped [at the start], but we finished strong.”
The Warriors meet Bishop Fenwick for the Division II state title at 3 p.m. today at Walsh Jesuit.
“These guys don’t make it easy for me, but they make it a lot of fun,” McCluskey said..
Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps.