HILLSDALE, Mich. – From very early on in the 2023 softball season, it was clear to coaches, teammates and fans that Hillsdale College sophomore Joni Russell was on her way to something special.
Now, with a historic campaign in the books, the Triad High School graduate’s performance is earning recognition nationwide, and placing her in extremely rare company among Hillsdale’s all-time greats on the softball diamond.
The Division II Conference Commissioners Association was the latest to chime in, naming Russell a second-team All-American and one of only six pitchers across the country at the NCAA D-II level to earn first- or second-team honors. Russell, who on Wednesday had received third-team All-America honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, is just the second consensus All-America in program history, joining Sam Catron in 2021 as the only player to receive All-America honors from both the D2CCA and NFCA in the same calendar year.
Russell is also just the third Charger in program history to receive All-America honors from the D2CCA, joining Catron and Jessica Guertin in 2010, and just the second pitcher to receive All-America honors, joining Renae Schaffner, who was an NAIA All-America in 1989.
Russell is one of just six players from the Midwest Region to earn All-America honors from the D2CCA in 2023, and one of only two from the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, joined by Kendall Andrews of Trevecca Nazarene, who earned honorable mention honors. She’s also one of only three players from the Midwest to be named to the D2CCA first or second team, joined by Grand Valley State’s Hannah Beatus and Lydia Goble.
The consensus All-America nod is the latest in a string of several honors for Russell, including unanimous first-team All-Midwest Region recognition, the G-MAC’s Pitcher of the Year award, and first team All-G-MAC honors for the second straight season.
It’s elite company for Russell, and it’s a group she belongs in after posting what is a strong contender for the best pitching campaign by a Hillsdale College player in program history in 2023. The sophomore helped lead Hillsdale to a G-MAC Tournament title and NCAA D-II tournament appearance with a 19-9 record and two saves in 32 appearances. Along the way, she shattered the program’s previous record for single-season strikeouts with 268 to date, 52 more than the old record set by Danielle Stiene in 2015, and her 0.76 ERA is the second-lowest in program history.
Russell also had eight shutouts in 2023, one shy of the program record for a single season, and she also broke a program single-game record for strikeouts with 19 in a 4-0 victory over Malone on April 8. Russell’s played a major role in the Chargers setting the G-MAC record for ERA as a team with a mark of 1.71, a number that ranks ninth nationally. Russell’s ERA of 0.76 also ranks fourth in the nation at the NCAA D-II level, and her 268 strikeouts rank fifth. Those numbers helped her earn not only All-Region recognition, but also helped her be named the 2023 G-MAC Pitcher of the Year, a first for Hillsdale, as well as her second-straight first team All-G-MAC honor.
In just two seasons as a Charger, Russell has put herself in position to challenge multiple career records at Hillsdale. Her 428 strikeouts are already second all-time, behind Sarah DeAngelo’s total of 474, and her 12 career shutouts rank fourth. She’s also tied for seventh in career wins with 33, and all without yet cracking the top 10 in innings pitched.
Russell has two more seasons to build on what’s already one of the best careers in Hillsdale College softball history, and will return to the field with the Chargers in 2024, as a team that loses only one player to graduation from the 2023 roster looks to build off a 35-win campaign and cement a place as a perennial contender in the Midwest Region.