When most people think of coaches here at St. John’s, the first name that probably comes to their mind is Chris Mullin. The Red Storm’s men’s basketball coach is in just his second year at the school after a legendary playing career at St. John’s over three decades ago.
But while Mullin and the rest of his staff are just getting started at St. John’s, many of their sideline counterparts have called Queens their home for well over a decade. The Torch had a chance to speak with some of these coaches about what they enjoy most about St. John’s, and what their many years at the school have taught them.
Coach Amy Kvilhaug
For Coach Amy Kvilhaug, who is now entering her 11th season in the dugout for the Red Storm softball team, her decade-plus at St. John’s has had a lot to do with the people that she has surrounded herself with.
“I think the thing that makes St. John’s are the people who I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” she said. “From the support of administration to the support of some really bright colleagues, with my fellow coaches.”
After spending four years as a head coach at Radford University in Virginia, Kvilhaug was named head coach of the Red Storm’s softball team in July of 2006. Since then, she has continuously improved the program and turned it into the Big East powerhouse that it is today.
In 2015, Kvilhaug led St. John’s to its first Big East Conference championship and guided the Johnnies to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. Despite that, she was hesitant to note that as her favorite moment in her time as head coach.
“Even when we didn’t have the best seasons there were a lot of good people and a lot of good memories,” Kvilhaug said. “I just really have a lot of good memories of the experiences within the things that go on throughout the years with the players.”
As Kvilhaug enters her 11th season with St. John’s, it’s hard not to ask her about her future with the school. But it doesn’t seem like she’ll be going anywhere any time soon.
“If I for some reason had softball taken away from me, would New York be somewhere I would want to be? And my answer is absolutely,” she said. “Because outside of the softball program, and the university, and my job, I have a lot of things that are really important to me here.”
Now entering his 23rd season on the sidelines for the Red Storm women’s soccer team, Coach Ian Stone hasn’t always been the face of the program. In fact, his time in Queens began with a part-time position that, over time, turned into a full-time head coaching job.
But Stone looks back on those early days with clear fondness, as they gave him a feeling at St. John’s that many coaches at the collegiate level simply never get to experience.
“I have just immense pride in what we’ve been able to do with the program, from the day that I got there now to 23 years later,” he said. “So that kind of makes it a little bit different from another position where you just kind of go in and follow up what someone else has already done. I was still kind of responsible for building the program here.”
Now as the winningest coach in St. John’s women’s soccer history, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has had nearly as much impact on this program as Stone. He has guided the Red Storm to three NCAA Tournament appearances in the last eight years, and has won a pair of Big East Tournament titles.
One of those titles came in 2015, and it is what Stone calls his greatest accomplishment at the school to date.
“I won the Big East Tournament in my first year in 1994, but I didn’t really know what that meant at the time,” he said. “Whereas doing it for me and going 19 years until we won another Big East Tournament, that was a little more special for me. They were all players that I recruited and that I had helped developed.”
As one of the elder statesmen that roam the sidelines at St. John’s, Stone noted one of the main reasons that he’s been here so long has been his fellow coaches.
“I think a majority of the people in athletics are really in it for the student athletes,” he said. “And I think that’s why we all stay, because you’re kind of surrounded by people that are in it for the right reasons and you’re able to be effective in the job that you do.”
As the only head coach in the history of the St. John’s volleyball program, Joanne Persico just recently completed her 23rd year on the job, making her the longest tenured female coach in St. John’s athletics history. She has led the Johnnies to two NCAA Tournament appearances, one Big East Tournament Championship and nine 20-win seasons. Persico is also an active member in the community and has consistently had teams with a high level of academic success.
“I have always stated and still believe today that coaching at St. John’s University made me a better person,” Coach Persico told the Torch. “I learned how to be more patient and more understanding and the real benefit of doing community service. St. John’s is also family and St. John’s is home.”
Persico has a long history at the University as her mother worked at the school for over 20 years, her sister played tennis in college and her older sister also attended St. John’s and worked in student government in the 1980s.
“I love my work here as a teacher through sport — a mentor and motivator of young women,” Persico said. “I also value a workplace that includes a strong Catholic mission. I grew up in the area and attended St. Gregory the Great Grammar school and St. Francis Prep High School so the opportunity to come home and build a program from the ground up on March 1st, 1994 up seemed exciting to me.”
The Red Storm finished the 2016 season with a 16-15 record and did not receive a berth in the NCAA Tournament. However, they won three of their final four games and had just two seniors on their roster.
Most importantly, the Queens native has no plans of leaving her hometown and the University that she calls home anytime soon.
“Our president has been a tremendous supporter of our team and players and as long as our alumnae continue to come back and express their gratitude for the work we do here as a staff I’ll continue to keep my whistle around my neck,” Persico said.
Jason Miller has been the St. John’s lacrosse head coach for the last decade and has helped the program gain relevancy within a loaded Big East Conference. Miller led to Johnnies to a record breaking campaign during the 2013 season as they finished 9-4 and earned the second most wins in a single season in University history.
Miller’s relates his success to the environment at the University and the support it gives to its athletics.
“I really like the quality of the kid that the University attracts,” Coach Miller told the Torch. “It’s a good kid to work with. I believe in the mission of the University, the importance of giving back and certainly giving back to those less fortunate. If you tend to think that way, then this is a really good place to be.
“I’ve been here 10 years, one athletic director, two interim athletic directors, two presidents, an interim president, so there’s been a lot of leadership change but it’s very evident that athletics is important to the University,” he said. “They want to be good in athletics and they want to commit to it to be good, and I think that’s a really comforting thing to go to work every day because regardless of who’s in charge, the commitment to being good in athletics is here.”
In 2015, the Johnnies had three All-Big East Team selections, Eric DeJohn, James Bonanno and Jason DeBenedictis, and the team was awarded with its fourth Big East Team Academic Excellence Award in the past five years.
The Johnnies haven’t finished over .500 since the 2013 season, but are on an upswing with Miller in charge.
“When I got here, we wanted to make this program relevant in the landscape of Division I Lacrosse and I think we’ve been able to do that,” Miller said. “The great thing about coaching at any school is there is always something else to do. There’s something else to do, there’s always another challenge, there’s always another season, there’s another recruit, another game to get ready for.”
LISTEN: Episode One of the new “Torch Talk” sports mini-podcast, hosted by Co-Sports Editor Troy Mauriello.