November 11, 2008
It was the same old song and dance for the St. John’s women’s volleyball team in their final home appearance of the regular season.
The Red Storm swept Georgetown in straight sets (25-17, 25-20, 25-13) and need just one more win with two matches remaining to clinch the team’s third-straight Big East regular season championship.
“We played a strong Georgetown opponent that came today and played us well as they always do,” head coach Joanne Persico-Smith said. “It’s not easy. Sometimes this team makes it look easy, but it’s not.”
However, for five very talented seniors, it was not just any ordinary conference match-up.It was their final chance to notch a win on their home court to record a dig, kill, assist, block or any other statistic in Carnesecca Arena; to come together on top of the St. John’s logo at mid-court to congratulate each other after every play, point or not.
And after a pre-game “Senior Day” ceremony where families, friends and fans alike came out to honor the careers of Wioleta Leszczynska, Valeria Kovaleva, Chen Chen, Casie Brooks and Lena Yee, there was no question that this team wanted to put on a show for the home crowd one last time.
“It means the most to me,” Yee said about her family, who traveled from Hawaii for the game. “They’ve always been supporting me. I wanted to play good for them.”
Yee’s family wasn’t the only family to trek from coast to coast for the game, as Brooks’ family flew from California to be there as well.
“Just having them here made me feel like I was at home, made me more comfortable,” Brooks said. “Playing my last game here at Carnesecca was kind of emotional but I’m glad we ended it with a sweep.”
It was only suiting that these five seniors did during this match what they have been able to do throughout their years on the team. Yee led all players with 14 digs, Leszczynska led all players with 36 assists, Brooks had seven kills and nine digs, Chen had nine kills and a match-high .529 hitting percentage and Kovaleva notched nine kills and a match-high four aces.
“I’m so proud of them and I was really hoping that they would have the day that they deserved,” Persico-Smith said. “These ladies deserved to have a good day and I’m glad they worked through it.”
The Red Storm controlled the first set, overcame a six-point deficit late in the second and once everything looked about over in the third, Persico-Smith began subbing out the seniors to “get them their recognition.”
“I know, for me, it was play hard, give everything you had,” Yee said. “And I felt that every one around me had that attitude, too.”
Once the match concluded, the uncontested intensity and resiliency which the Red Storm had played with through three sets quickly became a celebration full of smiles, laughter, dancing and hula skirts.
“That was so much fun,” Yee said. “I know I should know how to dance the hula but I haven’t taken lessons.”
For those brief few moments, these five athletes knew exactly what they had here at St. John’s, and exactly what they are going to miss.
“I think we feed off of each other and as coach said, we’re an anchor,” Brooks said. “When one’s down, the other one’s there to pick them up.”
But perhaps most importantly, the post-game celebration showed just how much spending four years together can do for a team’s success.
“Seniors are all captains and that’s the core of our team right there,” Brooks said. “We take that responsibility and we just try to help every one out.”
After the celebration concluded, it was back to business for the Red Storm and will have nothing but wrapping up first place on their minds for the next week.
“I really believe that we can do this,” Yee said. “We’re focused 100-percent and we’re not worried about anything else.”
The Red Storm will look to wrap up the conference this weekend when they hit the road to face Notre Dame on Friday and DePaul on Sunday.