Multi-sport athlete holds her own at No. 1 singles on Penn Hills tennis team

Sunday, September 18, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Talia Russell knows when she glances across the net at her opponent on the tennis court, every match will be a challenge. Russell, who is a senior and the Penn Hills girls tennis team’s No. 1 singles player, doesn’t have nearly as much experience as many of her opponents.

“It’s nerve-wracking, knowing that there are girls that have done this for their whole life and think I’m an easy win,” Russell said. “No matter the score or what goes on the court, it’s about doing better than my personal best. I’m trying my best to go out there and show I might not beat you, but I can keep up.”

Trying to maintain a busy sports schedule is something Russell has to do that many of her top tennis opponents don’t usually worry about. In addition to playing on the tennis team, Russell runs for Penn Hills’ cross country team. She also swims in the winter.

As a kid, Russell also dabbled in cheerleading, dance and soccer. What Russell enjoys most is having a multifaceted skill set.

“I think I like the diversity of all of them,” Russell said. “Each sport is so different. They are all the same and so different. They use different abilities and skills.”

When it comes to cross country, Russell joined the team during her junior season. Russell’s brother had previously competed as a runner and Talia was eventually goaded into joining the team by her friends.

When Penn Hills opened the season at the Red, White & Blue Invitational at the Schenley Oval last week, Russell was the top Indians’ runner, finishing with a time of 29:36.

Indians cross country coach Lee Zelkowitz has been impressed with Russell’s progress.

“It takes a while with cross country because it’s not like running a single road race or on the track,” Zelkowitz said. “You have to compete with hills, mud and every course is different. Talia is competitive and wants to do well no matter what.”

When it came to tennis, Russell played No. 2 singles last year and was asked to bump up this year following the graduation of other players. She has made a lot of improvements.

One of the most important aspects of Russell’s improvement came from how she handles her serve.

“My serve was something I wanted to improve on over everything else,” Russell said. “My serve was a big thing for sure. I saw all the other girls had hard, fast serves. That was going to keep me down if I didn’t get it up a level. I was able to play around and figure out the best serve that works for me.”

When it came to joining the tennis team, Russell picked up the sport early in high school. What Russell enjoys is this is a sport she can play through her life, recreationally as well as competitively.

“That’s definitely a pro to it,” Russell said. “I’ve thought about continuing to do tennis throughout my life, even if I’m not on a team. It’s a skill that I didn’t think I’d lose. I will always know how to play. That’s the best part of playing the sport.”


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