Polish powerhouse

Usually when one thinks of Poland, the last thing that comes to mind is volleyball.

However, the stellar play of Red Storm volleyball’s senior Wioleta Leszczynska might make people think otherwise.

Leszczynska currently leads the Big East conference in assists per game, and is a big reason why St. John’s is currently ranked No. 22 in the nation.

The roots of Leszczynska’s strong volleyball foundation were formed in Bielsko-Biala, a small, mountainous city located in southern Poland near Krakow.

Both of her parents coached the sport and she picked up the game from an early age.
“I’ve been playing all my life, but I started playing seriously when I was about 10-years-old,” said Leszczynska of her volleyball beginnings.

Volleyball has rising popularity in Poland because of its national team’s recent success, and the sport is developing a strong following.

She realized she was among the game’s elite during her early days of high school competition.

“Our team was pretty good and we won a lot of games,” she said.

Her laurels certainly back her skills, as she captured a regional tournament MVP title, served as team captain for three years, and was named Bielsko-Biala’s best high school player in 2000.

Even with these honors, she lists the biggest accomplishment of her volleyball career as her stint on Poland’s gold medal winning Junior National team.

Leszczynska began collegiate volleyball at the Globe Institute of Technology in downtown Manhattan. She captured another MVP in 2005 along with academic all-region honors before being recruited by Red Storm head coach Joanne Persico-Smith. However, when she first arrived in the United States, the assimilation to the American lifestyle was difficult because of the language barrier.

“It was hard at the beginning. I only knew a bit of English, but the coaches and the girls could understand me and they supported me,” she said.

Leszczynska says she enjoys St. John’s because of the opportunity to play volleyball at a high level and get a good education.

“It gives you a chance to be part of something big.”

She does not regret her decision, and basks in the opportunity to compete and study in America.

“I really love it,” she said. “America was a great chance to try something different and exciting.”

During her downtime, Leszczynska relaxes by watching movies, reading books, going to the beach, and visiting family she has nearby. Her pre-game ritual involves music to ready herself for the “headbustin’ session” she delivers to opponents on the volleyball court.

“First I like to listen to slow music which calms me down. Right before the game I listen to some techno which pumps me up,” she said.

She also tries to focus on her goals for the game and analyze the other teams’ strategies.

“It helps me on the court to know where [my opponents] go and what they are doing.”

Leszczynska has a dream of eventually playing volleyball professionally, and with her consistently-impressive game performances it doesn’t seem too far off. She would want to play in Italy or Spain because “they have the best leagues in the world and the weather is warm.” She also claims that when she lands that first pro paycheck, she would want to ride around in style with a convertible BMW or a Benz.

For Leszczynska, it’s not just about the flashy things. When it comes to the game of volleyball, her no-nonsense attitude is a model for all aspiring players. When asked what advice she would give to those pursuing volleyball, she instructs others to “try to improve as much as possible and to enjoy the game as long as they can without disregarding their education.”