Giana Russo of Lisbon drives to the basket against Mt. Abram in December 2017 in Lisbon. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal File Photo

LISBON — Lisbon’s Giana Russo had a moment of optimism Wednesday as she gathered her stuff on the sideline of the Greyhounds’ home court before practice. 

Optimism has been wavering over the past year for Russo. An ACL tear that kept her out of basketball last winter, and then, once her injury had healed, the fear of another catastrophic injury right before her senior year of hoops had her worrying she’d miss out on one of her favorite sports two years in a row. 

Giana Russo practices ahead of her first basketball season in two years. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

But as she tied her sneakers before practice and a scrimmage Wednesday, Russo smiled. 

“I am so glad to be out here,” Russo said. “It’s so exciting because, I mean, earlier I came in and put my sneakers on and sat on the bench and said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to be sitting here the whole time anymore.’ It’s just awesome to know that I get to come back and play. Basketball is one of my top sports, I love it, and I am glad I can be back for my senior year.”

As a sophomore, Russo was Lisbon’s leading scorer. Everyone knew she was the best player on the team, and first-year head coach Doug Sautter knew what she brought to the court as early as third grade, when he coached her as a child. 

“She is a great defender, she sees the court well and even as a sophomore she was a leader,” said Sautter, who watched Russo’s early high school career from the stands as a fan. “The girls look to her. You could see it last year that they just didn’t have that. Even for a kid that has been away, you see her in practice and she’s the girl. She gets them going and is just a great leader and we definitely missed her last year.”


Russo can score from anywhere, but her passing is a strong point, as well. Almost too strong, sometimes. 

“She sometimes is almost too unselfish,” Sautter said. “She doesn’t realize all the time that a bad shot by her is as good as a good shot as some others. She’s that good.”

That’s what made Russo’s injury during her junior soccer season all the more heartbreaking. She had to watch from the sidelines. 

Russo jumped into the air during halftime of a soccer game and when she came down, she heard a crack. 

“It was a cold day and I was playing and I went up and came down and all of a sudden I heard a big crack, and I started laughing at first,” Russo said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my knees crack sometimes,’ because I am a catcher in softball and I have bad knees. But that one was really loud and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s different.’ Then I went to get up and I couldn’t.”

Russo thought she would be able to jog the injury off but soon realized that wasn’t an option. She needed surgery, but the day after she was already in physical therapy. The goal turned into being able to catch for the Lisbon softball team the following spring, but she never left the basketball team’s side, even when there were more health scares. 


“I was able to go to some practices and just watch, and I was at the games,” Russo said. “In January, I ended up having a rash on my leg, and so they took some fluid off my knee to test it and it turns out it was infected and the infection went to my blood. I was in the hospital for a while and I had another surgery to clean out the infection. I was always in PT two or three times a week. At the end of the season I was able to shoot around.”

Giana Russo practices ahead of her senior season, her first playing basketball since 2017-18. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

This past fall, Russo re-aggravated her ACL injury and said she had a new tear in her ACL and a cracked bone in her kneecap. Russo had an MRI and a CT scan and decided to push on and “play until I can’t play.” 

The Lisbon basketball team does not have many players this winter. Only nine, in fact. Sautter will have to find a way to not over-work Russo in the beginning, but through the first few practices she hasn’t shown any signs of injury. 

“You could tell in our first practice she was a little hesitant, then the next day she was good to go,” Sautter said. “It took her a day. … At our scrimmages last week she had a move at halfcourt where she had a defender on her and she went behind the back and spun and the defender didn’t know where she went. You could see, finally, that she had no hesitation. She actually saved a ball and went into the bleachers, but she was fine.”

Russo is ready to get the season going and said her team will have to lean on its defense in the absence of depth. 

“We all work hard in practice,” Russo said. “Coach Sautter is new for us. I had the same coach for years and years (Julie Petrie) and she left this year (to become the coach at Mt. Ararat), but Doug is a great coach, we all listen to him, and I think we should have a good season. As long as we all keep our heads and not get frustrated with the numbers and the rest we get.”


Sautter pointed out Lisbon’s large homecourt as a possible problem for the team as it might make his team more tired, but Russo sees the situation as a glass half-full. 

“I think that should be an advantage to us,” Russo said. “We do sprints and stuff in practice, so in away games we should be more in shape. We aren’t tall, we don’t have many tall players, so we are going to have to play a lot of defense to get us scoring opportunities.”

When she doesn’t have basketball practice or a game to play in, Russo is a coach on the Lisbon Unified basketball team. She can’t play on the team, as she is on the varsity roster, but she helps coach the Greyhounds team. 

“It’s great, I love it,” Russo said. “It’s awesome to be there, be with them on their good and bad days and just practice, it’s really cool.”

For Sautter, that encapsulates what Russo means to the team and school as a leader.

“She has done well,” Sautter said. “She’s coaching the kids, working with them. She’s a great leader and they look up to her.”

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