Once in a lifetime

After shocking the collegiate volleyball world with its best season in school history, as well as its first trip to the NCAA Tournament, the ladies of the St. John’s volleyball team got the opportunity to travel to Vietnam in May and compete in the VTC Cup.

“The trip was phenomenal,” said coach Joanne Persico-Smith. “The tournament was 11 straight
days, 12 including practice. We really got to see how much our team could persevere through incredible heat and a 24-hour plane ride.”

After a long and grueling flight across the world, the Volleyball team landed in Asia. There was little time for relaxing, however, as the team began practicing shortly after their arrival in order to
loosen up and shed some of the jetlag.

“The fl ight was about 24 hours,” said Hui Ping Huang. “It made me dizzy. I [didn’t] want to be on a plane anymore.”

Before beginning play on May 12, the teams toured Ho Chi Minh City, visiting the historic Notre
Dame Cathedral and the Vietnam War Remnants Museum.

“It’s really a peaceful country [and] we visited a lot of nice places,” Huang said

The next day it was time for the tournament to begin. The Red Storm came out flying, sweeping
Zhong Chi 3-0, despite changes in the rules used in the VTV Cup.

“The international rules are very different than they are here in America,” noted Persico-Smith.

Next up for St. John’s was second-round opponent Zetyssu, Kazakhstan’s national team. The
Johnnies were unable to rise to the challenge, dropping a 3-2 heartbreaker. Zetyssu took an early 5-1 lead in the deciding fifth game of the match. St. John’s put pressure on to edge back into it, bringing themselves within four trailing by a score of 10-6. However, Zetyssu then took control
of the game, winning by a final score of 15-10 and taking the match 3-2. After the tough loss, the Johnnies played matches the next three consecutive days. St. John’s shook off the defeat to Zetyssu, sweeping their next three games against VTV B-Long, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. With the victories, the Red Storm advanced to the semifinal round.

“They rose to the occasion and played their hearts out,” Persico-Smith said.

With a trip to the semifinals locked up, the team had some time to prepare for their next match and to soak up more of the culture. Persico-Smith was impressed by some of the differences between the United States and Vietnam. She explained, “The salary for a year [in Vietnam] is only about 500 dollars.”

St. John’s went on to defeat Shikoku Eighty 8 Queen from Japan with a three game sweep, setting up the final match against the Vietnamese national team to decide the winner of the VTV Cup. The Johnnies were ultimately out dueled by Vietnam, dropping the match by a score of 3-1. The team did, however, earn silver medals. Three members of the St. John’s team received all-tournament honors. Kathleen Yee was the most decorated, being named the tournament’s best receiver, digger, and libero. Huang was named best spiker, while Wioleta Leszczynska earned best setter.

Following their last game, the team traveled to Vietnam’s capitol city, Hanoi. The Johnnies, who became the talk of the town while in Ho Chi Minh City, were greeted warmly by the Hanoi community.

“Even though we didn’t speak the same language, there was an incredible amount of similarity in how the people welcomed us and wanted us to learn about their culture and have a good time,” said Persico-Smith. “To me, that was a signifi cant revelation.”

While in Hanoi, the team visited the School for Disabled Children, an experience
that was both emotional and humbling to the players. They then continued on to Ha Long Bay for the final leg of the trip – an overnight cruise.

“As a coach whose passion and life revolves around winning volleyball games and being around quality student athletes,” said Persico-Smith, “the most enjoyable part was winning the silver medal and playing in front of 4000 Vietnamese people and representing our country.”

It’s sure to be a trip they will never forget.