By: Kevin Ruple
BEREA, Ohio – Kim Russell came to Baldwin Wallace University in 2012 as its first-ever head coach of women's lacrosse. As part of her first official recruiting class in the winter and spring of 2013, the elder Russell got a commitment from current three-time All-Ohio Athletic Conference midfielder Katie Kocher (Rocky River) and then added her daughter, current senior three-time All-OAC midfielder Maddie Russell (Rocky River), at the mid-semester break. The past four years, the Russell's-Kocher combination has been producing wins on and off the field with the elder Russell serving both as coach and "mother hen"!
"The first time I ever coached Maddie and Katie was in soccer when they were nine years old," said an always smiling Kim Russell, who has built a 48-25 career mark, including an 10-2 overall and perfect 5-0 OAC prior to hosting Ohio Northern University this Friday on Seniors' & Parents' Day at 1 p.m.
"Katie committed and decided to come to BW before Maddie," said Kim Russell. "Katie only played lacrosse for two years in high school (junior and senior seasons). I already knew what an amazing athlete Katie was/is, so I was ecstatic that she committed.
"Maddie transferred to BW after her first semester at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNC Wilmington)," said Russell. "I wasn't even sure when she got here if she was going to play lacrosse. I left that up to her to decide. When she did, I was cautiously optimistic."
At BW, Maddie Russell and Kocher are four-year starters who have been the heart-and-soul of this team. Both are having an outstanding senior season.
"Maddie and Katie have very different personalities and leadership qualities and playing styles," said Kim Russell. "They are both great leaders for different reasons.
"Maddie is a leader by-example on the field and in the classroom," said Kim Russell. "Katie is more helpful in teaching other players when they don't understand something. They both are incredible athletes who are true team players which translates into being amazing leaders on the field. Both will do anything for the team. They are not selfish and could care less about statistics. They are the one's who are hustling all over the field.
"They work seamlessly together," said Russell. "They know how each other moves and plays. When there is a specialized play centered around the two of them, they don't need to be coached. Their communication is intuitive whether they are on offense, transition or defense."
Maddie Russell, who carries a 3.967 grade point average in chemistry, is one of the nation's best all-around midfielders and defensive players. She can score, pass and defend. This season, Russell leads the OAC in both ground balls and caused turnovers and she tops the team with 30 goals, 52 ground balls, 42 draw controls and 25 caused turnovers. She also has 10 assists for 40 points. She also owns numerous game, season and career records.
"I have loved every second that I have spent here at BW," said Maddie Russell, who is this year's BW Female Clyde Lamb Award winner, symbolic of the school's most outstanding student-athlete. "The past four years flew by, and I truly wish that the time would have slowed down.
"I have made some of my best friends that will last a lifetime, and have some of my most favorite memories all-time too," said Maddie Russell, a the two-time Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) all-region player. "My teammates, friends, coaches (especially my mom) have made my time at BW unforgettable, and I can't thank them enough."
"Coaching Maddie hasn't always been easy," continued Kim Russell. "The first three years, I left almost all of the individual coaching of Maddie to my assistant coaches. This year it's been pure joy. We are both thoroughly enjoying the season together."
While Maddie Russell has had arguably the finest career of any BW women's lacrosse player in the first five years of the program's history, she remains grounded in many ways, including when she found out that she was receiving the Clyde Lamb Award.
"I feel humbled and incredibly honored to win such a prestigious award," said Maddie Russell. "I was shocked and very excited when I found out that I won the award. I couldn't have done it without the support and hard work from my teammates, coaches and professors."
Kocher, who majors in exercise science, is one of the best distributors in Division III and enters the ONU contest with an OAC-leading 32 assists. She is a four-year starter who loves to pass the ball and make things happen on offense. This season, she leads the team in scoring with 44 points. She also has 12 goals, is tied for second with 25 ground balls, fourth with 14 draw controls and second with 17 caused turnovers. Kocher already owns the school-record for career assists, and as a freshman, she set the school single-season assist mark with 49.
"Katie is like having another coach on the field," said Kim Russell. "She also is an exceptional strategist, and I will often go to her first to ask her what will work best against a specific opponent. She also is a great teacher to the younger players on the team."
Kocher has both enjoyed her friendship and playing days with the younger Russell.
"Maddie and I have known each other since were were about eight and played on the same travel soccer team," said Kocher. "Since we only went to high school together (Maddie Russell attended Ruffing Montessori School from kindergarten through eighth grade and Kocher went to Rocky River from K-12), we really didn't play anything else together until I decided to stop running track and play lacrosse during my junior year." Kocher played volleyball (three years), soccer (one), basketball (four) and lacrosse (two) and ran track (two).
"We have definitely gotten closer since we've been in college," said Kocher. "To say that I have never played a single lacrosse game without Maddie is something really special and important to me. I also think that is very obvious when we play. We rely on each other in a lot of different ways, and we definitely look out for each other like a family. We've had this crazy chemistry and even when we were eight, our roles on the soccer team were very similar to what they are now and 14 years later.
"I'm definitely going to miss Maddie after this season," said Kocher, "but I guess that's how the game goes! After the summer, I want to start coaching in some form at the collegiate level and start my career. And, Maddie will go on to graduate school and do great things."
Coach Kim Russell also sees a lot of herself as a coach in Kocher.
"Katie is a smart person who is going to be an excellent coach one day," said Coach Kim Russell. "And, I am beyond proud of Maddie. She is a hard worker in the classroom and on the field."
How much will the elder Russell miss this duo next year?
"I can't express it," said Kim Russell. "I love them both."
Spoken like a true mother.
Entering the ONU game, BW is all alone in first place in the OAC at 5-0. Two years ago, Russell and Kocher helped the Yellow Jackets tie for a regular season title.
"We have a lot of team goals, but the biggest one is to win the OAC title and make it to the NCAA [Division III] Tournament in May," said Maddie Russell and echoed by Kocher. "We are just focused one playing and winning one game at a time and as a team."
Following its match versus ONU, the BW women will enjoy the Easter holiday and then get ready to host a non-conference game against The College of Wooster on Thursday, April 20 on Tressel Field at The George Finnie Stadium at 7:30 p.m.