Last year’s volleyball season was one to remember, but a loss in the third round of the NCAA tournament has this year’s team hungry for improvement.
After posting a dominant 33-4 record last season, the Johnnies have huge spaces to fill near the net with the departure of last years Big East Player of the Year Hui Ping Huang. The team will also be without first team All-Big East recipient Latoya Blunt and Big East Tournament all star Dana Demayo.
Head coach Joanne Persico-Smith heads into her 15th season for the Storm. She has built the program into a back-to-back Big East champion, and confident contender for seasons to come.
“We must defend our Big East Conference tournament and regular season championship,” Persico-Smith said. “We look to improve in our blocking and serving this year and focus on defending every point harder than any team in the country.”
The success the Johnnies hope to have lies in their response to last year’s successful season. Led by their senior setter Wioleta Leszcynska, the Johnnies return three starters and will look for serious contributions from freshmen Jordan Haskins and Darlene Ramdin. Leszcynska, has already been named as the Big East’s Preseason Player of the Year and, along with Lena Yee, represents St. John’s on the All-Big East Preseason Team.
“Leszcynska is a solid and consistent player,” Persico-Smith said. “She is one of the best setters in the nation.” Seniors Valeria Kovaleva and Casie Brooks return to the outside hitter position for the Storm.
The 2008 schedule will test the team early and often with match ups against preseason-ranked Nebraska, LSU and No. 5 Cal in the first week of play. The Johnnies finished last season 13-1 in the Big East conference.
But with Cincinnati’s talented freshman class and the consistent competition from Louisville, the Johnnies will have competition for the Big East Championship. The Storm spent their off-season improving in areas that will help them reach the next level during this season. “We are working hard on our blocking and hitting with some of the girls and our serve receive with some others,” Persico-Smith said.
“We are also working on getting our new players to understand that you cannot be one dimensional in this league if you want to win championships.”
After finishing last year’s season ranked 13th in the Top 25 polls, the Johnnies will head into this season unranked. This year’s team has the opportunity to win the Big East Championship for a third time in a row, a feat coach Persico-Smith would enjoy in her 15th season at the helm of the program.
But she chooses to view this season not as last year’s unfinished business but as a fresh start to continue the success.
“To finish the season ranked 8th and battle USC in the sweet sixteen is something we are very proud of,” she said, “even though you always would like to win an NCAA Championship.”