Returning to elite ball hockey competition on a global scale, Frances Russo brings a confident preparation, ready to reach towards attaining new goals. A competitor with Team Italia’s national women’s ball hockey team, Russo emerged from the 2015 ISBHF World Championships with an insatiable hunger, highly motivated to build on her first international experience.
As the 2017 ISBHF World Street Hockey Championships approaches, Russo is among a collection of returning faces for Team Italia. No longer in the role of rookie, Russo’s experience has set the stage to take on this new chapter in her hockey career with the goal of providing an Italia roster eager for their first podium finish, with a set of refined skills and increased leadership.
Among a group of players on the Italia roster who were raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Russo’s status as a heritage player is also a prized opportunity to pay tribute to her family roots, while participating in a game that means so much to her.
“My first year with team Italia was back in 2015, when we travelled to Zug, Switzerland to compete for Worlds. Prior to this I had not played ball hockey at such a competitive level. I grew up playing ice hockey for most of my life and watching my dad coach my brothers’ ball hockey teams.
A chance to represent my heritage country once again on a world wide scale is a great opportunity, I could not pass it up. I mean who would not want a chance to represent their heritage country, while playing a sport they love. Coming off of a 5th place finish in Switzerland and seeing the potential for growth and improvement made me want to come back and help the team work towards a podium finish.”
Russo helped to set the tone for Team Italia in its first win of the tournament. Prevailing against Switzerland by a 6-2 tally, Russo would score the opening goal of the game at the 1:10 mark of the first period. Simultaneously, this was also Italia’s first goal of the tournament. Playing on a line with sensational sisters Christina and Pamela D’Ambrogio, they would each gain the assists on this landmark goal.
“Scoring the first goal against the Swiss was also a feeling I will be impossible to forget. It all happened so fast, from a battle in the corner to a pass out front and the ball somehow ending up in the back of the net. The feeling of scoring a goal for your team is great and this year in Pardubice I hope to do more of that.”
The Russo name is prevalent in Team Italia circles. In 2016, the men’s team captured the bronze medal at the inaugural ISBHF World Masters Championships. Hosted in Banff, Alberta, Luciano Russo served on the staff of head coach Frank Zampini.
With Russo’s experience at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds, it introduced her to a much larger world, attaining the pinnacle of world-class competitor. Accumulating a series of memories that shall be cherished for many years to follow, one aspect that enriched the experience for Russo was the sense of belonging which positively shaped Team Italia’s culture.
Considering that there were a handful of first year players on Team Italia’s roster in 2015, that feeling of “famiglia” ran contagious and Russo was not immune.
“Going to Zug to compete for Team Italia was an experience I will never forget. From being in a new country, to playing the sport I love, touring and going on excursions, all of these things made Worlds that much more memorable.
However, the most enjoyable part of the trip had to be "la famiglia." Here are 20 something women who were put together on a team, to play hockey, to try and compete for a medal. Yet despite still getting to know each other we managed to come together as a family. Everyone was made to feel welcome, accepted and loved.”
Undoubtedly, Russo enters this year’s ISBHF Worlds with a remarkable amount of momentum. Along with teammates Christina D’Ambrogio and Lianne Foti, they were among the roster of the triumphant London Norstar. Participating at the 20th World Outdoor Ball Hockey Championships in September 2016, Russo and her Norstar teammates qualified for the championship game of the Women’s A division.
Hosted in Barrie, Ontario, and presented by Bauer, the Norstar challenged a club identified as USA Happy Endings for bragging rights. Emily Rose Pecchia would log the game’s only goal, providing the Norstar with the pinnacle of a championship as Danielle Bailey earned the shutout. Between the pipes for the Happy Endings squad was a prominent ball hockey legend whose body of work has also involved competition at the ISBHF Worlds, goaltender Alessandra Glista, adding to the sense of world-class talent on-hand for this prestigious event.
“Yes, I do feel more confident. In 2015, there was not much time to prepare or grasp the idea that I was actually going to represent Italy on a worldwide stage. This year for Pardubice, I have had plenty of time to train and improve my game.
Going from not having played ball hockey at such a competitive level to having experienced what the World Ball Hockey Tournament is like, and putting a few years’ experience under my belt has better prepared me to compete.
I have been able to put in practice playing ball hockey all year round. Just being able to work and improve on different aspects of my game is going to allow me to go into Pardubice feeling more confident and more prepared to help my team reach our goal of a podium finish.”
During the winter of 2016, Russo’s continued preparation included the chance to participate in a pair of ball hockey leagues. Starting with the Downsview Women’s league, donning the jersey of a club called the Flyers, she would record 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 11 regular season games.
Balancing play with the Flyers with a stint for the Mustangs club in the Vaughan Co-Ed League, Russo proved equally adept at competing in such a unique league. Once again, Russo provided solid consistency as a point-per-game player, amassing a solid 14 points in just 12 games. Finding her scoring touch in the co-ed league with 8 goals, it is the type of performance that Russo hopes to repeat in Pardubice.
Registering at least one point in eight regular season games, the Mustangs enjoyed an undefeated mark. With four multi-point performances, Russo would provide a three-point output in a 5-1 win on February 23, 2017. The month of March would begin on a strong note, as she recorded a hat trick in a 9-0 whitewashing.
Taking into account that ball hockey is a family affair for Russo, inspired by the success of her father and brothers, the dream of a podium finish in Pardubice is one that would add to a growing family legacy. While the championship experience with London Norstar allowed her to share in the jubilation that her siblings have felt several times before with their own respective club teams, she will definitely have family in her heart as the newest chapter in her ball hockey career approaches at the 2017 ISBHF Worlds.
“Watching my dad coach my brothers team and win multiple provincial and a national titles, was amazing. The feeling of winning such a big title with your team, friends and ultimately your family is the greatest feeling. To have a podium finish in Pardubice would be the most amazing feeling in the world. A chance to represent your country on a scale this big is one of the greatest opportunities an athlete can have.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
To make a donation for Russo’s journey to Pardubice, please visit: https://makeachamp.com/francesrusso