The St. John’s volleyball team has a new focus and a new aim. Fresh off of last year’s disappointing 15-16 record (1-9 Big East), the Red Storm is already off to a respectable 8-3 start.
Last year was a disappointment in large part because of the year before, the team posted their best record ever at 26-9. The underlying problem between the two years was the fact that so many players graduated in 2003, leaving last year’s squad inexperienced.
“When you’re so young, it is kind of difficult to finish down the stretch,” head coach Joanne Persico-Smith said. “We also had one of the toughest schedules last year. The girls learned a lot going into this year.”
Sophomore Latoya Blunt added: “We got too happy, too early [last year]. We just didn’t finish off games as well as we should have-that’s a major area I think we will improve on this year.”
St. John’s will be without star player Jackie Ahlers, an All-American honorable mention last season, because of personal reasons √¢?” a major blow to what will be another young team.
Persico-Smith, entering her 12th season with the club, is the only coach the team has known since its inception in 1993.
Although this season is going well, it is still relatively early.
“We are pleased with the improvements to the team so far.” Persico-Smith said.-“We don’t take any plays off-we take each point seriously, and if we play that way the rest of the year, we shouldn’t have any regrets at the end of the season.”
This year is different and more difficult than other years by the amount of new faces.
Although the team has changed, the Red Storm remains a tough unit to contend with.
“All of the players that we have brought in have a role on the team,” Persico-Smith said. “We look for them to sacrifice their personal agenda for the team. I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop in the next couple of years.”
The returning players are senior co-captain Anicia Wood, junior Alena Putintseva, and sophomores Elizabeth Austin, Caitlin Rimgaila, Laura Sudano, and Lisa Tedder who will provide the team with veteran leadership that it can look to for support.
In addition to the returning members, the team enters the season with six new faces: freshmen Kathleen Yee, Laurie Miyasato, Casie Brooks, Hui Ping Huang, junior Jenna Schweitzer and transfer graduate student Shameka Mitchell (the other co-captain).
The most significant new face is transfer graduate student Mitchell.
She is a 5-foot-10 middle blocker from the University of South Florida.
While at South Florida, the All-American honorable mention led the team and finished second in the conference in kills (560) and points (648) and was second on the team in total blocks (120) and digs (264).
She adds both skill and maturity to a team that currently has nine underclassmen.
“I bring more knowledge and enthusiasm to the team,” Mitchell said. “To that, I add aggressiveness and a hunger to win.”
She added, “I think this team is good enough, that we should make the Big East [Tournament].”
These faces are not the ones in the Red Storm locker room; these faces currently reside in the form of the new schools in the Big East.
Since last year, the conference has added five new teams from Conference USA. Starting this year, Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida have all entered into the Big East volleyball fray.
St. John’s will get their first taste of the new schools on Sept. 23 and Sept. 25 when they face Cincinnati and Louisville, respectively. Both could prove to be formidable opponents to St. John’s because of last year’s success.
Cincinnati is coming off of a 22-11 (10-3) record and a fourth-place finish in their conference last year.
Louisville is coming into this season after ending last year at 30-3(13-0), finishing atop their conference standings, and winning the Conference USA tournament.