Persico talks with the Torch


Volleyball head coach Joanne Persico’s team improved 10 games over the previous year and are looking to rise even higher this upcoming season.

Torch: What goals do you have for your team this season and how do you expect to reach them?

Joanne Persico: Our goals for this season are very similar, each season has the same goals; we obviously want to make a playoff run in the Big East conference, we want to win the Big East championship, we want to get a bid to the NCAA tournament – which would be the ultimate goal – and we want to try to do well if we get into the tournament. Those are lofty goals for us with a lot of young players on the team, but we’re really happy with the girls and how they came back from summer fitness and we feel we have some good leadership on the court in our juniors and two seniors.

T: What are some positives you’ve taken from the spring games?

JP: Spring was a great opportunity to get a new quarterback in there; we have a new setter who was our back up last year behind Sabina Piegza and this year in the spring she got a chance to run the show. The setter position is crucial and we’re looking forward to Deniz Mutlugal to take the ball. It’s a high pressure job but we think she’s up for it. I think the spring was most crucial for Deniz.

T: What are some things you feel you need to get better at before the season starts?

JP: We’d like to get better at our blocking and defense. We have, right now, a pretty strong offensive set of players but defensively we still have a ways to go to reach those goals, so everyday now we’re working on our defense and the issue is simulating the speed of the game that we’ll see down the road. We focus on being in the right spot, it’s a really quick game. If you’re not in the right spot you’re not going to beat the speed of the ball.

T: Karin Palgutova and Shawna Lei Santos both were impact players as freshmen, how have they progressed as they start with a year under their belts?

JP: They both had terrific rookie campaigns, not only on the court but were excellent in the classroom, and made the Big East all academic team which is a nice achievement for freshmen, especially for Karin since English is her second language. On the court they did a nice job of taking a big part of the load and being consistent in their ability to score the ball for us or defend the ball for us and all summer they both played a lot of volleyball. Shawna actually played on the USA A2 team and won a Gold Medal at the USA High Performance Championships that were held in Florida this July. She really dedicated her summer to playing volleyball, which
hopefully continues to help her reach her goal.

T: How is the team going to cope with the loss of Seniors Milicia, Gabby and Sabina?

JP: Each year it’s difficult for the coaches and coaching staff to lose players because when players are seniors and are consummate student athletes, it’s tough to replace them just like it was tough to replace Darlene Ramden and what she brought to the school. It’s always difficult to replace them and I’ve said this before but you can’t replace them.All you can do is create the new normal with the current team that we have and look for everyone to contribute in those categories that Gabby, Millie and Sabina did well. So if Gabby was a good digger we maybe can’t have Shawna replace all the digs but between her and Yaidy Santiago and Morgan Thomas they can pick up the back row defense that we lost in Gabby.

T: In the last two years you’ve made the jump from 10-21 to 20-12. Do you think this team will continue the upward trend?

JP: We learned a lot from that season where we didn’t have a winning record but we haven’t forgotten what that felt like and we’re moving forward with a lot of new players. Every few years you have to rebuild and regroup and many teams are like us where we graduate a group of people or have to clear a group of foreign athletes, but we’re past that and our now-sophomores experienced winning and come from winning clubs and we hope to keep that going into their next couple years. I think we have a nice mix and to answer your question, yes I think we’re looking forward and expect to continue in a winning way and improve from last year.

T: What is your expectation about playing in the new Big East conference?

JP: It’s a breath of fresh air and I’m really excited about it. We have some new places to go to that I’ve never been and I’ve been here for 20 years. As the longest tenured coach in the Big East and only coach to have played in the Big East as a collegiate athlete I’m very excited for it and I think the athletes are too. Butler, Creighton and Xavier, they’ve all been great RPI’s for volleyball and ours has actually increased because of them. We’re also looking forward to going to Nebraska, where they play great volleyball and sell out, and we’re looking forward to going to Indiana where they also play great volleyball.