The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Volleyball conference tournament to begin Friday

When the 2008 Big East Tournament begins on Friday morning, the St. John’s women’s volleyball team will find themselves as the top seed for the third consecutive year.

And while the reigning 2007 Big East champions will look to defend their title, they realize that there are going to be seven other squads looking to dethrone them.

“We never take a team lightly,” Casie Brooks said.

The Red Storm will make the trip to Pittsburgh knowing that they were 6-0 during the regular season against every team in the tournament and won by a combined set total of 21-7.
But no path to a championship is ever easy, especially when you are playing on a neutral court.

“We got to play every team as best as we can,” head coach Joanne Persico-Smith said.

The first opponent will be No. 8 South Florida, a young team who finished the regular season 7-7 in the Big East and were 2-4 in their final six conference matches. The last time these two squared off at Carnesecca Arena on Nov. 7, the Red Storm swept them in three sets (25-18, 25-15, 25-20).

But in order to take this match with as much ease as the last time, the Red Storm must find an answer to the Bulls’ outside hitter,Marcel Gurgel, who had 14 of her team-leading 478 total kills in the previous duel between the two teams.

If the Red Storm are able to knock off South Florida on Friday night, they will face the winner of No. 4 Connecticut vs. No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday. That could prove to be the toughest test of the tournament for the Red Storm, as they went into five sets against both teams during the regular season.

“We’ve got to just prepare them for every scenario and we’ve got to find out if they’ll be ready,” Persico-Smith said. “But it’s my job to get them ready and we’re going to do our job.”

For the Red Storm to have success this coming weekend, the core of five seniors will have to excel. And as much Persico-Smith wants to spread the ball around, there will be the temptation to tap into Valeria Kovaleva’s game-changing ability and allow her to take over the match if the team is struggling.

Wioleta Leszczynska, who seemingly leads every match in assists, and libero Lena Yee who does the same with digs, will also have to get in on the action for this team to be successful.
If Yee can get the ball to Leszczynska as she’s done all season long, and if Leszczynska can set up Kovaleva for the kill, this team has the potential to be unstoppable.

But if and when the opposition begins to set up their blocks in front of Kovaleva, Casie Brooks and Chen Chen will need to be able to pick up the kills.

And if any of the seniors are struggling to get it going, look for freshman Darlene Ramdin to quietly keep the team afloat.

“She’s grown so much from the beginning of the season and has become a go-to player,” Brooks said about Ramdin. “Teams don’t really look to her as a big hitter … she’s a great asset to her team.”

The Red Storm showed their resiliency at Notre Dame this past Friday, pulling off a come-from-behind win in a hostile environment. But after that win, they lost to an inferior DePaul squad two days later, raising questions about this team’s bounce-back ability.

“We’re just going to come out for the tournament with all our heart and give it all we got,” Brooks said.

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