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Dianna Russini will leave NBC Washington, join ESPN

(Courtesy photo)

NBC Washington sports anchor Dianna Russini is leaving the D.C. market to take a position with ESPN, becoming the latest local anchor to leave town for Bristol, Conn.

Russini, who joined WRC two years ago, will be working as a “SportsCenter” anchor for ESPN, among other duties. She will continue to work at NBC Washington until early June; she will start at ESPN later in the summer.

“It was something I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do yet, because I feel like Washington has really become my home,” she said on Monday. “I’ve really fallen in love with the coverage and the teams and the fans, but I feel like this is an opportunity for me to grow and get better and really do something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. This has been my dream; it just came a little earlier than I thought. If the opportunity’s there, you’ve got to take it.”

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Russini, 32, came to Washington from NBC Connecticut, filling a hole that was created when Lindsay Czarniak left WRC for ESPN. Shortly after her arrival, Dan Hellie also left the station, in his case for NFL Network, putting more pressure and attention on Russini. She said she tried to keep the job of local sports anchor relevant by “being tenacious, sometimes asking uncomfortable questions to players and coaches to get the best answers.” She also became known for aggressively attempting to break news about the Redskins and the NFL on Twitter, even when the news had little to do with Washington.

“That was a result of building relationships,” she said. “When you have relationships with people and you’re given news, it’s like what are you going to do? I didn’t want to not put it out, and in an era of Twitter it’s almost easier to put it out yourself, so I went for it. And it’s really cool to see on the ESPN scroll, ‘NBC Washington is reporting….’ ”

Like so many Washington broadcasters before her, she said she will continue to follow D.C. sports from Bristol. And she said among her lasting memories of her past two years in Washington will be sharing a set with Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler.

“I sit next to living legends every single day,” she said. “It took me six months not to feel like I wanted to throw up every time I walked out on set next to them. People used to come up to me when I first started here and feel very comfortable saying ‘I don’t think George Michael would have liked you.’ And after two years of Jim and Doreen opening their arms to me and telling viewers ‘she’s cool, we promise,’ I feel like people came around. And that’s probably the best feeling. That’s what made this so hard, is the fact that so many viewers came around to embracing the new Channel 4 team.”

Russini is following many other local broadcasters to ESPN, from Czarniak and Sara Walsh to the since-departed Bram Weinstein and Hakem Dermish to Britt McHenry, who left WJLA for ESPN about a year ago. She said she thinks the non-stop competition for news and coverage in Washington explains the ESPN pipeline.

“It just becomes a 24/7 job, and it puts you in situations where you can handle anything,” she said. “I really never thought that I would love and care so much about this, and that’s kind of what drove me the last two years. I just fell more and more in love with it the more I did it. Once I got over being scared of it — the big market, George Michael, all that, — I just let it go and tried to make it my own.”