Nothing has come easy for the St. John’s volleyball team this season and Friday’s Big East conference opener at the KFC Yum! Center against the University of Louisville was no exception.
Coming off a pair of losses to Iowa and Columbia in the Columbia Invitational last Saturday, the Red Storm were unable to turn things around against Louisville, who is on the edge of the AVCA Top 25. St. John’s lost to the Cardinals in straight sets (19-25, 14-25, 23-25 ).
Playing in the first-ever volleyball match at the KFC Yum! Center the Red Storm (9-9, 0-1 Big East ) had to keep their focus.
“It was a huge deal, with lots of bells and whistles and I thought our team hung tough,” said head coach Joanne Persico, “They didn’t get distracted by playing in front of 2,400 fans for their first time and they played a very competitive match.”
“Over the last 3 full weeks, we have been playing much more purposeful and competitive team volleyball,” said Persico, “Although we play the top two teams in the conference first, I think we truly are much better than we were even seven days ago.”
The first set saw the Johnnies keep it close until 1-1 when Louisville started to pull away.
The Red Storm were forced to play catch-up for the entire second set, as they never tied or held a lead in the set,
The third set was more competitive, but the Cardinals once again came out on top with a two-point victory to complete the sweep.
“In the second set, we made a gutsy, aggressive decision to change our setter and the team didn’t function as well, ” said Persico, “A setter in volleyball is like a quarterback in and although sometimes it does have a positive effect, many times it can change the rhythm of the hitter’s attacks to the set. In this case, it did.”
Senior Anzelika Lukjanska, led the team with 9 kills and a .333 hitting percentage, while senior captain Darlene Ramdin contributed 5 kills and 4 in the losing effort. Senior Paulina Piegza had 4 kills of her own, as her twin sister, junior Sabina Piegza, led the team in assists with 14.
“Anzelika is just a tremendous competitor and teammate who is fun to coach,” said Persico, “She gets it and it has taken her about one full year of playing at this level after junior college to really adjust her game. She is one of our most beloved players because each and every day she leaves it all out on the court.”
The Red Storm will face another tough test on Sunday when they travel to Ohio to take on Cincinnati. Cincinnati holds the longest home winning streak of any team in the country at 40 matches.