Storm beat Pitt in bout for first

In a battle for first place on Sunday, the St. John’s women’s volleyball team reigned supreme.

The Red Storm (16-7, 7-1) defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers on the road in straight sets, regaining sole possession of the top spot in the Big East.

“It wasn’t easy,” head coach Joanne Persico-Smith said. “Pittsburgh was ready for us. We had to play a good match from start to finish and we did that.”

The match was highlighted by the common stellar performances of Valeria Kovaleva and Wioleta Leszczynska.

“Valeria has been doing a really good job, [Wioleta] and Casey [Brooks], too,” Persico-Smith said. “Those three have really stepped up in terms of leadership.”

Kovaleva, whose 3.7 digs per set was good for eighth in the Big East coming into Sunday, tallied 10 more on the afternoon.

She also complemented her dig total with 11 kills for yet another double-double.

Leszczynska, averaging the NCAA’s eighth best 11.62 assists per set among setters going into this weekend, added 30 more to her season total. She also had a .400 hitting percentage that went along with seven digs and three blocks.

But the afternoon also featured the talent of Kun Song, who turned in one of the best performances on either side of the net.

Song, who has been quietly performing at a consistent level, had a match-high .429 hitting percentage after averaging only .202 this season. She was also a force up front for the Red Storm with 10 kills, four digs and two blocks.

“She really came through for us,” Persico-Smith said. “She’s been a little up and down … but I was happy to see her step up in a big spot.”

Song’s effort has also reassured the players around her that, despite her quiet demeanor, she is beginning to come into her own on the court.

“She did a great job today,” Leszczynska said. “She is getting her confidence … I can trust her and believe that when I set her, she will put the ball down.”

The Red Storm, who have been holding conference opponents to the second lowest hitting percentage in the Big East, continued the trend against Pittsburgh. The Panthers were held to .147 on the afternoon.

Dominating first and second sets by the Red Storm contributed to Pittsburgh’s low hitting percentage. In the first set, they held their opponents to a mere .062 and a .097 in the second set.

The Red Storm hiccupped in the third set, allowing Pittsburgh to pull within one point at 24-23, despite leading by as many as six points late in the set.

However, the Red Storm dealt with the pressure put on by Pittsburgh and managed to overcome a match-worst six errors and a .211 hitting percentage in the set, holding on for the victory.

“After that win, we’re very optimistic coming into the next game,” Leszczynska said. “We have a couple of tough games in the future.”

The Red Storm’s only conference loss this season came to Marquette on Oct. 3.