Stevens: Lobos' Ranch Girl Plants Seeds of Confidence in Young Lobos

Oct. 17, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Volleyball - Mountain West Conference

Thursday: 8 p.m. (MT) at San Diego State
Saturday: 2 p.m. (MT) at Nevada Game Recap, Stats

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

Let's get this straight from the get-go. Jordan Russell is not a farmer.

"She gets mad if you call her a farmer," said a smiling Lobo Coach Jeff Nelson, throwing out some interview bait. "She's a rancher."

Now, that doesn't mean Russell, the only senior on Nelson's Lobo volleyball team, has anything against fruits, vegetables or grains. But when the sun cracked the horizon out by Moriarty, dad (Joe Russell) wasn't waking up Russell to pick tomatoes or hoe a rose garden.

It was saddle up time.

"I'm not a farmer. I'm a rancher," said Russell, also smiling. "There's nothing wrong with farmers, but we raise beef cattle, not crops. It's just different."

For sure, there is something more romantic, maybe even more macho, about pulling on your boots, jumping on a horse, and riding off to round up cattle. Russell did that most of her life and even did it this past May when it was branding time.

And these ranch activities really do start shortly after sunrise.

"You get stuff done early because it gets hot later," said Russell. "I like to do all that stuff, so it was easy for me to do it. But it also was expected of us whether we liked it or not."

What all that "stuff"' teaches you is work ethic.

"I think when you grow up on a ranch there are things you have to do that toughen you up," said Nelson. "Those aren't kids who are afraid to get their hands dirty. Jordan is a tough kid."

At Moriarty High, Russell never had it that tough. She was a star from the get-go: A four-year captain in volleyball and a two-year captain in basketball. She won state twice in Class 4A volleyball and was a two-time all-state setter.

"I thought about going to a smaller school and playing both sports," said Russell. "Basketball was fun for me, but I was ready to focus on volleyball and see what I could do."

At UNM, it became tougher. She played two seasons behind Jade Michaelsen at the setter position, often scratching out court time as a defensive specialist. She played in about half the sets in 2011 ending with 54 assists, playing behind Mariah Agre (1131 assists) and behind Allison Buck and Miquella Lovato on defense.

She is splitting time at the setter spot this year with Hannah Johnson. Russell has 388 assists and Johnson has 414. Russell has played in 79 of UNM's 80 sets. Russell has 134 digs.

"I knew I would have a tough road at New Mexico to work myself into a big role," said Russell. "But it was important to have my family come to games. I love having my family at the games.

"I went from being a starter all four years in high school to be an underdog here, but I played my freshman year as a DS (defensive specialist). It's been nice and I like the challenge of earning what I get."

Russell's court time has improved in this, her last, season as a Lobo. But Russell's role on this team goes further than the lines and is just as important on the other side of the court.

"The presence of a good leader was critical to the success of this year," said Nelson. "We were too young not to have one. She is one of the best kids I've ever had in that role.

"When she talks to the team, she doesn't leave any holes. She tells the girls what is expected and what is not accepted."

Said Russell: "I'm used to responsibility. It's a little different being the only senior, but it's been good. And it's easier when your record is 17-4."

The Lobos were kind of a mystery team - even to Nelson - going into the 2012 season. They were young, but talented. When the injury bug took a deep bite into Nelson's roster, it was again important to have a team leader.

"There weren't a lot of expectations on us and I think that took away some of the pressure," said Russell. "But we all come from winning programs and we go out there expecting to win.

"We're OK."

Really the Lobos are more than OK. A big part of that is because the Lobos' ranch girl acted a bit like a farmer and planted a few seeds and cultivated some confidence. And she probably dug in her senior spurs a bit, too.

"She is one of those players who really gets it," said Nelson. "She understands what it takes and is comfortable in her role. I never really have to worry about Jordan.

"She gets things done."