Focused and determined, Robyn Kurasaki steps back to the service line. Cradling the light, white volleyball in her small hands, the freshman waits for her team to get set and ready for her to serve. In one graceful motion, Kurasaki tosses the ball high up above her head, rears her arm back and smacks the ball up and over the net. After the serve, she scampers into position, waiting to assist one of her teammates for a kill, which she amasses with amazing alacrity.
Transition has been a huge part of Kurasaki’s life. She moved from her native Milliani, Hawaii, to another tropical island of sorts, Jamaica. Only this Jamaica is in Queens. She joins teammate and Honolulu native Roslyn Dang as the first two athletes to play at St. John’s from the union’s 50th state.
After being recruited by other schools, Kurasaki came to St. John’s on her official visit in November of her senior year in high school. “I liked the team, I liked the coach. I thought it would be a good experience for me to learn something new for four years. I mean, I’d be going to school in New York,” Kurasaki said.
Kurasaki’s closest friend and confidante, Dang, wound up coming with her on that trip to the school on Union and Utopia Parkways. “Well, we came together, so that made it easier. The girls [on the SJU volleyball team] were really nice and I got a great feel for the campus,” Kurasaki said. However, no trip is complete without trips to New York City. “Of course, they took us to the city and we went shopping,” Kurasaki said.
The Dang and Kurasaki tandem was by no means a package deal for Head Coach Joanne Persico-Smith. Even though the Hawaii natives played on the same club team for two years, they both came to their decisions to attend St. John’s separately.
“We both knew we had the opportunity to come here. We never said something like ‘well, if you come, then I’ll come,’ so we just individually decided that we wanted to be here.” Kurasaki said.
The St. John’s women’s volleyball team finished the season 25-8, which was good enough for a fifth place finish in the Big East Conference. Only the top four teams get a bid to the conference tournament. It was St. John’s best season since 1996, when it went 24-7. “As a team we came together, but I was disappointed in the fact we didn’t make the Big East,” Kurasaki said. “But it was our fault. We lost crucial games we should have won. But we had a strong team this year.”
Another very significant transition came for Kurasaki when she was moved from outside hitter, the position she played in high school, to setter when she arrived at St. John’s. As a setter, the 5-6 Kurasaki played in 118 games for the Red Storm while hitting her way into the Red Storm record books with 1,370 assists, good enough for second all time.
Of course every setter has to have a stellar hitter to kill the ball for her. Kurasaki had that in Olga Roudovski, St. John’s career and single season record holder in kills. “I had a lot of confidence in Olga as a teammate and as a person. She was an important part of our team,” Kurasaki said about the Brooklyn native. “Everyone knew it. She was our go to hitter.”
For her efforts, Kurasaki was named Big East Rookie of the Year, the first player in St. John’s history to win that honor. “It was totally unexpected to me, especially my first year setting. I was in a state of shock,” Kurasaki said.
After their first collegiate season, her relationship with Dang has gotten stronger. They live on the same floor in the residence halls and share many special moments with each other.
When staring in the face of transition and the biggest change of your life, it’s always nice to take the journey with a friend.