The honors were announced during the organization’s first-ever virtual banquet on Sunday evening.
The other female finalists were: University of Montana golfer Teigan Avery of Kalispell, former North Dakota State University track and field athlete Paige Harris of Plentywood and University of Montana basketball player McKenzie Johnston of Helena.
The other male finalists were: former Montana Western football player Jason Ferris of Dillon, Oregon State basketball athlete Tres Tinkle of Missoula and Carroll College basketball player Dane Warp of Havre.
Russo, now a freshman at Ohio State where she will swim for the Buckeyes, left Butte High as one of the most-decorated swimmers in Montana prep history.
A four-time champion in both the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly, Russo owns state records in each: 22.76 and 54.15 seconds, respectively. A junior national finalist, she qualified for the Olympic Trials after a first-place effort in the 100 butterfly at the USA Swimming Futures Championships this summer, winning the event with a time of 1 minute, 0.69 seconds.
Russo owned a 4.0 GPA in high school and “scored off the charts on her ACT,” according to Butte swim coach Lynn Schrader.
“I am honored to be receiving the 2020 Little Sullivan Award. I would like to start by thanking the Montana Amateur Athletic Union for the award. I’m honored to be able to represent Butte, and humbled to be joining such an elite group of athletes,” said Russo. “I would also like to thank my coaches: Caty Flikkema of the Bozeman Brookies and coach Lynn Schrader of the Butte High Bulldogs for their unwavering support throughout the years.
“I’m so grateful to my fellow swimmers throughout Montana, and so fortunate to be able to grow in such a tight-knit community. Finally, I would like to thank my parents, Amy and Anthony Russo, and my siblings, Isabelle and Phillip, for their unwavering love and support over the years.”
Jones worked his way to the famed Sidney High School wrestling record books, becoming one of only two Eagles to win four consecutive individual state championships (Jesse Obergfell, 2004-07).
Wrestling for coach Guy Melby, Jones won Class A titles from 2012-15, capturing championships at 112, 119, 120 and 126 pounds. His high school success extended to the national scene, where he was thrice undefeated at the prestigious Disney Duals and earned USA Wrestling all-American accolades.
Jones joined the University of Minnesota wrestling program, coached by former Sidney standout Brandon Eggum, then transferred to Dickinson State (N.D.) University after Minnesota dropped its physical education program.
Jones won a Heart of America Conference championship and a pair of all-American honors at the NAIA Championships, placing third and fourth.
“I would like to start off by saying what an honor it is to be receiving this award today. To be named with so many other great athletes is a very humbling experience for me,” said Jones. “I remember when I was just getting into eighth grade, high school, guys like (former Billings Senior wrestling champion) Trent Sprenkle (and former Townsend four-time state wrestling champion) Jade Rauser, who I really looked up to, were winning this award. Now I’m in the same shoes as them and it’s a dream come true.”
“I would like to thank my parents for always pushing me to be my best, not just in athletics, but as a person helping out others and the community,” he continued. “They have been there every step of the way with support, and I can’t thank them enough. I would also like to thank all the coaches I’ve ever had. Success starts when you are young, and the mentors I have had throughout my life have been amazing. Thank you Shane Gorder, Ty Graves, Guy Melby, Brandon Eggum and Justin Schlecht here at Dickinson State (N.D.). Without your belief in me, day in and day out, I would not be half the athlete and man I am today. I would also like to thank my grandparents for driving across the country to support me always. Also, a big thank you to my roommates the last four years for keeping me in line and always helping me make each day a memorable one. I would also like to give a huge thank you to my beautiful fiancé, Taylor, for always being by my side and pushing me to be my best every single day. Finally, I would like to end by saying thank you to the Montana AAU board for everything you do. Thank you very much for this award.”
The Montana AAU also announced its outstanding wrestler awards, given annually to top prep wrestlers across Montana.
Bozeman’s Leif Schroeder, Missoula Big Sky’s Bridger Hall and Sidney’s Jett Jones were each honored.
Schroeder became the latest four-time state champion at the Montana all-class wrestling championships in February. He boasted a record of 163-3 during his high school career, posting 127 pins. He was also a Fargo all-American, NHSCA third-place finisher and Reno Worlds champion.
Hall capped his senior season with a Class AA state title, posting a win-loss record of 115-50. He also captured four all-conference honors and three-all state honors. Hall has volunteered as a little guy wrestling coach and referee, while also working construction and volunteering highway clean up.
Jones, the younger brother of Little Sullivan winner Gresh Jones, tallied 175 wins compared to 32 losses and capped his senior year with a perfect 46-0 record. He won three consecutive Eastern A divisional titles, placing third at state his sophomore year and earning a state title as a junior and senior.
Among his accomplishments are an impressive Disney Duals individual gold medal, undefeated, and six-times winner of the Sidney Wrestling Club AAU outstanding wrestler award. Jett Jones will attend MSU-Northern to wrestle for the Lights.