After back-to-back Big East titles and an impressive 2007 NCAA Championship run, St. John’s volleyball coach Joanne Persico-Smith has turned the Red Storm women into a household name.
Her volleyball days began at the tender age of nine with a local CYO team in her native Bellerose. It would be the beginning of a good relationship between her and the sport, as Persico-Smith went on to later play her college ball at Syracuse.
In 1994, she interviewed for the vacant coaching position at St. John’s, and soon became the school’s first fulltime female coach.
Over the next several years, Persico-Smith used her great eye for talent and knowledge of the game to turn a fledgling volleyball program into one of the nation’s premier teams.
Senior Wioleta Leszczynska explained what separates Persico-Smith from other coaches. “I think she is not only just coaching us as a team, but she also is a friend,” said Leszczynska. “Whenever you have a problem or a hard time with something, [coach Persico-Smith] will always listen to you and help with the solution. I don’t think that other coaches care like she does”Leszczynska, the 2007 Big East Tournament MVP, largely credits her coach with her development as a player.
“We understand each other very well since we are both setters. She gives me great advice during the games and she’s a great person that you can always count on.”
The most triumphant moment of Persico-Smith’s coaching career came in 2006, when the school was invited to its first ever NCAA Tournament.
“One moment that still gives me goose bumps was in 2006,” said Persico-Smith.
“The team and my staff were waiting in the media room to see if our name would be called to participate in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. All of a sudden they announced ‘St. John’s from Queens’ and turned over the ‘block’ with our name appearing on ESPN News. We all jumped up and hugged [each other]. It was our dream to be recognized nationally.”
Although the last two years were pretty magical, there had to be a start somewhere along the line.
Persico-Smith outlined what she believed was important for a competitive volleyball team. “A successful volleyball team is one that understands its mission,” Persico-Smith said. “You need to have strong leaders and players who are capable of making good decisions under pressure. They sacrifice their personal agendas for the good of the team, and have an undying work ethic.”
Good teams get better not because of their strengths, but because they correct their weaknesses. Persico-Smith reinforces that belief with her team practices, which focus on a combination of fulfilling daily goals and individual ‘stations’ which help players improve their game one step at a time.
The team concludes their practices with a competitive team drill, to help keep everybody sharp and on the same page.
A large part of her success can be attributed to her relationships with her players.
“Well I have to say that my favorite part of being a coach is working here at St. John’s with college student athletes,”
Persico-Smith said. “I believe in [our product] that is St. John’s. I always tell the team that my favorite part of the day is working with them at practice.”
Persico-Smith gave some reasons for the team’s recent rise to prominence.
“I have surrounded myself with good players who also believed in St. John’s. My staff has been very loyal, and in over 14 years of coaching, there is great consistency in our coaching philosophy and training.”
When she’s not busy scheming up game plans for opponents, Persico-Smith says she enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephews. Being she is a fun loving individual, she also enjoys singing, and dancing and laughing.
After being asked how she planned to repeat the success of the last two seasons, her response was fairly simple.
“Recruit, recruit, recruit.”