Maybe it's no coincidence: One of the state's most prolific goal scorers also has a twin sister who happens to play sweeper.

Could there be a better way to hone one's skills?

"We practice one-on-one all the time, and we're definitely competitive, and that makes me better as a player," said Hailey Russell, a senior striker for the Riverside girls' soccer team. "The biggest way she helps me, though, is on the field. She always knows where I'm at — she doesn't even have to look up, she just knows where to pass it."

Having a twin certainly helps. And Hailey and Hannah Russell have one of the area's smoothest connections.

But that's just part the answer to a question that Hailey Russell has heard a lot over the last two years: What's her secret?

Russell is coming off a monster junior season in which she scored 60 goals, just six shy of the state's single-season record. She did break her school's season record and already holds the Riverside career mark for goals.

She entered her senior year with 115 goals. And through four games this season, she already has notched 13 for the 3-1 Rams.

Defenses key on her. She's double-teamed, triple-teamed. Marked. But she just keeps scoring. Again and again.

How?

"I've described her as a true attacker — and she really is. She's just hungry for the goal and will go 100 miles per hour," said Riverside coach Katie Morton. "She is just so aggressive to the ball."

Hailey Russell during a break at practice.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Hailey Russell during a break at practice.

But even that answer, as Morton will tell you, is far from complete.

Russell's dominance in the sport didn't truly start until the game was almost taken away from her during her sophomore year.

Midway through that season — in which she had already netted 18 goals — Russell broke her ankle and tore two ligaments in her foot, forcing her to miss the rest of the soccer campaign and part of basketball season.

"At that point, I just dedicated myself to physical therapy — I pushed myself every day," said Russell, who, on top of her soccer accomplishments is also a three-sport athlete (soccer, basketball and softball) and fielding a 4.0 grade point average.

"Getting hurt that badly," she said, "made me realize how grateful I am to be on the field playing, and it made me want to work that much harder."

Russell, who is set to continue her soccer career at Rider next season, said her entire family, particularly her mother, Terri, has been crucial to her success, supporting her every step of the way. She credits her teammates with much of what she has accomplished on the field. Hannah is not the only one who is adept at feeding her the ball in prime position to score goals.
The Rams have taken steps forward as a team in each of the last two seasons and won a playoff game in last year's Central Group1 tournament.

This year, Russell is hoping for even more. "I owe so much of my success to them," she said. "And I know we have the talent to have a great season."

Records aren't on her mind very often, she said. And she doesn't track her scoring total. Instead, she concentrates on making plays for her team and on winning games.

And of all the keys to her success, she said, that might be the biggest.

"I just focus on playing the game and doing what I love," Russell said.