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In the words of first-year Barton College track and field coach Chad Balentine, Larry Russell is a “gamer.”
It may be Balentine’s first year on the job with the Bulldogs after coming over from the University of Montevallo in Alabama, but there hasn’t been much to change with the way Russell approaches his craft.
After all, when inheriting the three-time Conference Carolinas Men’s Indoor Track Field Athlete of the Year, sometimes you just let Russell be Russell.
In the 2019 Conference Carolinas Championships, Russell won the triple jump with a school-record leap of 47 feet, 11 inches and captured the long jump with an attempt of 25-0. The long-jump mark ranks No. 4 in all of NCAA Division II and makes Russell an automatic qualifier for the national championships, which take place March 8-9 in Pittsburg, Kansas on the campus of Pittsburg State University.
“He’s a gamer,” Balentine said in a recent telephone interview. “When the pressure is on, that’s when he’s amped up.”
Being amped up has also shown in his jump results. While Russell is plenty capable of hitting that one big mark that can catapult him up the leaderboard, other attempts can be marred in fouls as he gets cited for having a toe over the line by a fraction of an inch. In trying to max out his long jump, he’s been prone to fouls. As such, Balentine has come in and attempted to iron out Russell’s consistency by refining his approach.
However, Russell admits that when Balentine first took the job, there was an initial struggle.
“At the beginning of the year, I was trying to learn a new way of coaching,” Russell said. “I wasn’t agreeing to stuff, and I had to listen.”
Russell, who Balentine says is in tune with his own body, has become a player on the Division II scene in the long jump despite battling knee ailments. Balentine trusts Russell to tell him when he needs to dial it back.
On the outdoor scene, Russell is coming off a year where he finished third at the national championships in Charlotte. And if Barton can successfully navigate the waters of the NCAA’s redshirt process, Russell will have a chance to be a national champion in the long jump once 2020 rolls around. Despite being a senior and completing his final year of indoor eligibility, Russell will attempt to redshirt this coming outdoor season and return for his senior campaign. He is confident that the NCAA will grant the request.
On Wednesday, Russell was named All-Region in the long jump, triple jump and high jump. He’s 20th in the nation in the triple jump and turned in an attempt of 48-8 at the Armory Last Chance Meet last weekend in New York City. Junior Micah Clemons (weight throw, shot put) and redshirt freshman Gabriel Allen (triple jump) were also named all-region. Clemons captured the Conference Carolinas championship in the weight throw and turned in the Southeast Region’s best throw with a 60-1 in New York City.
But for Russell, he knows that anything can happen at the national championships. To clear his head before a jump, humming a bar or three of gospel music is in order.
Balentine assures Russell’s consistency has grown ahead of nationals.
“It’s just taking one step at a time,” Russell said. “A split-second.”