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Batter up

Greenbrier athlete signs with UA for softball scholarship

By Donna Lampkin Stephens/Contributing Writer

This article was published December 26, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

autumn-russell-of-greenbrier-has-signed-to-play-softball-for-the-arkansas-razorbacks

Autumn Russell of Greenbrier has signed to play softball for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

GREENBRIER — Autumn Russell became the first Greenbrier athlete — boy or girl — to sign a scholarship with the University of Arkansas last month when she put in writing her commitment to play softball.

Russell, a three-sport Lady Panther athlete, excels in track, field and basketball as well.

“It’s amazing,” Greenbrier softball coach Brian Butler said. “We’ve had a couple of athletes walk on before but never had anybody sign. This is a testament to our school and the dedication we put into the program. This will put us on the map.”

The 5-foot-7 Russell plays third base for Greenbrier but will move to the outfield for the Razorbacks.

She hit at least .511 as a freshman, sophomore and junior, including a school-record of .574 as a sophomore, and is a two-time all-state player, leading the Lady Panthers to three conference championships, two state semifinal finishes as a freshman and sophomore, and a state runner-up showing last year. She also won the 100- and 400-meter dashes as a sophomore at the Class 5A State Track Meet.

According to arkansasrazorbacks.com, Razorback softball coach Mike Larabee said Russell’s 10.68 seconds from home to home was the fastest he had ever timed.

“If the ball bounces twice off her bat, she’s laughing,” he said. “She is a triple threat at the plate. I’ve been very impressed with the improvements on her full swing.”

Russell, 17, had committed to Arkansas the summer after her sophomore season.

“It is a huge relief to get it done,” she said recently. “It’s something I’ve worked for for a really long time. It took a lot off my shoulders. I’m playing basketball, so I wanted to sign early just in case something were to happen. I wanted to get it finalized.”

She drew softball recruiting interest from Auburn, Memphis and the University of Central Arkansas, but she said she had been sold on Arkansas for a long time.

“My family has always been Hog fans, for sure, so it was always in my choices,” she said. “I liked a few other colleges out of state, but I went to some camps [at the UA] and fell in love with it.

“The coaches are awesome up there, and their facilities are really, really good. I love the campus.”

Russell and classmate Ashley

Anderson, who will play for Arkansas Tech next year, will be the eighth and ninth players to play college softball in Butler’s six seasons at Greenbrier.

A natural right-hander, she made the switch to left-handed batter the fall of her freshman year on the advice of her coach for a Texas travel team.

“It puts you a step closer to first,” she said. “When you can slap-hit, it’s a huge advantage. I just started with baby steps and worked my way into hitting. I’ve gotten physically stronger, and I have more power in my left-handed hitting.”

Fittingly, she said, she plans to study kinesiology and physical therapy at UA.

She plays point guard for Greenbrier’s basketball team and competes in the 100, 200, 400, 4x100 relay and long jump for the Lady Panther track team.

And she has goals for her senior year in all three of her sports.

“In basketball, we’re doing pretty well,” she said. “We have a lot of talent on the team. Our goal is to make it to [the state tournament] for the first time ever.

“In track, I hope to win state again in the 100 and 400. In softball, I hope to make it as far as we can. I hope we can get there again and I can get all-state three years in a row.”

And although she would love to continue her spring double schedule of softball and track, she knows that’s not practical at the Southeastern Conference level.

“I’ve been pretty dead set on softball,” she said. “I like running track, but I don’t think I could leave softball.”

Butler, Russell’s high school coach, said her opportunity is a testament to her hard work.

“She’s been a team leader all along,” he said. “A lot of players let it go to their head, but she’s humble and works hard just like a freshman. It’s paid off for her to be able to go up there and play at that level.”

Larabee signed a class of 10 in November.

“The class is very talented with a great blue-collar work ethic, and they all love to compete,” he said, according to the Razorbacks’ website. “Academically, all 10 signees have performed well in the classroom and will have a great foundation to build on.

“The 2014 class has great pitching, great power, great speed and a good combination of right-handed and left-handed hitting. We have all positions covered with pitchers, middle infielders, corner infielders, outfielders and a catcher. They are all excited to come to Arkansas and compete for playing time to help us continue working toward our goal of getting to Oklahoma City and winning a national championship.”

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