As the volleyball program enters its 15th season, the only head coach in the team's history, Joanne Persico-Smith, has successfully demonstrated how to build a team and bring it to national prominence. The Red Storm celebrated its most decorated season in 2007 as Persico-Smith led the team to a program-best 33-4 record and its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinal round, finishing the season with a No. 13 ranking in the final CSTV/AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll.
The squad also captured its first BIG EAST Tournament title by sweeping Louisville on national television, 3-0, in the championship match and for the second straight year, St. John's finished atop the BIG EAST regular season standings. Also during the year, the team picked up its first win over a ranked opponent when it defeated then-No. 24 Long Beach State at Carnesecca Arena on Sept. 1, 2007 and broke many program records with single-season bests in wins (33), 3-0 sweeps (23), kills (2,197), hitting percentage (.282) and assists (2,056).
In 2007, the Red Storm boasted its first AVCA All-America Third Team selection in senior Hui Ping Huang and had three members named honorable mention All-Americans: seniors Latoya Blunt and Wioleta Leszczynska and junior Lena Yee. Huang also became St. John's first volleyballer to earn BIG EAST Player of the Year honors, while Yee was named Libero of the Year for the second straight season. Leszczynska was named a Collegiate Volleyball Update National Setter of the Year honorable mention as she finished the season ranked third in the country with 14.19 assists per game. Persico-Smith also received honorable mention National Coach of the Year recognition from Collegiate Volleyball Update for the second consecutive year.
Now entering her 15th season on the sidelines for the Red Storm, having become the first full-time female coach in school history in 1994, Persico-Smith has compiled a 292-164 (.640) career record and sits just eight victories away from her 300th win. Persico-Smith ranks fourth in total wins among BIG EAST head coaches at their respective institutions.
A 1987 graduate from the Newhouse School of Communications and the Maxwell School of Business at Syracuse University, Persico-Smith was one of the first New York City volleyball players to receive a volleyball scholarship to play for the Orange; she finished her remarkable career by being inducted into the Orange Plus Hall of Fame in 1988. As a senior, she was named BIG EAST Player of the Year, Syracuse's Most Valuable Player and team captain. A scholar-athlete, Persico-Smith finished her dual degree in three years. She was named a GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-American and a member of the BIG EAST All-Academic team. In 1985, she received the Verhulst Award, which is given to Syracuse's Sportswoman of the Year.
Still active on the court, Persico-Smith is a 26-year veteran, and is one of the most decorated players in history, at the Empire State Games. This past summer, the New York City women's team became the first team in the open division to win five consecutive gold medals, as it defeated Long Island in a one-set playoff, 25-17. Persico-Smith led teams to the gold medal in 1998 and 2004-08, the silver in 2002-03 and the bronze medal in 1999. For the past six years, she has acted as a player and coach for the New York City team, which included former Red Storm standouts Lynn Klein ('96), Olga Roudovski ('00), Yana Ruban ('05), Jackie Ahlers ('06), Shameka Mitchell ('06), Anicia Wood ('06), Patti Hardimon ('07) and Hui Ping Huang ('08). Persico-Smith has also played for the prestigious, nationally-recognized club team, Creole, which finished fifth in the nation in 1993 and 1995.
Persico-Smith has had vast and varied experiences working with players at many ages and talent levels. She has worked camps and clinics for many years at St. Anthony's High School, Kellenberg, St. Francis Prep as well as universities such as Hofstra and Syracuse. During the summer of 2003, Persico-Smith successfully initiated a volleyball clinic at St. John's, with the summer of 2008 being its most successful year to date.
Persico-Smith, a St. Francis Prep high school graduate, was selected as an inaugural member of the Catholic High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1991. In 2004, she was inducted into the St. Francis Prep High School Hall of Fame, which also includes Joe Torre and Vince Lombardi. Also, she was recently awarded a seat on the St. Francis Prep Board of Trustees. In May 2004, she received the Outstanding Administrator's Award for her accomplishments at St. John's from University President Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M.
The success of the 2007 squad followed the program's breakthrough year in 2006, when Persico-Smith and the Red Storm posted a 31-5 overall record and a perfect 14-0 record in BIG EAST play. It was the first time that a squad had gone undefeated in conference play since 2001. St. John's made its fourth appearance at the BIG EAST Championships, winning its first-ever postseason match against USF in the quarterfinals and was the only BIG EAST team to advance to the second round of the 2006 NCAA Championship, as it defeated Albany, 3-1, in the first round. The coach notched her 250th win by defeating DePaul, 3-0, on the road on Oct. 20. On the 20th anniversary of her BIG EAST Player of the Year honors, Persico-Smith was named the 2006 BIG EAST Coach of the Year, the only coach in the conference to receive both accolades. Shortly following that recognition, she received American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Northeast Coach of the Year honors.
Persico-Smith and the Red Storm extended the accomplishments internationally, becoming the first U.S. women's volleyball team to compete in Vietnam during the summer of 2007. St. John's participated in the Vietnam Television (VTV) Cup International Women's Volleyball Tournament, which showcased 11 teams from nine different countries with the Red Storm representing the United States. Persico-Smith coached her team to a silver medal after defeating club teams from China and Vietnam, and national teams from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Japan.
The 2005 Red Storm put together one of the top four strongest campaigns in program history. Finishing 23-9 overall, and 9-5 in conference action, the Red Storm made its third appearance at the BIG EAST Tournament in 12 years and finished regionally ranked by the AVCA. The team posted one of the greatest turnarounds in program and conference history, improving from its 15-16 overall record and 1-9 BIG EAST mark in 2004. Despite its first losing season in the last seven years (15-16), the 2004 Red Storm took home two in-season tournament titles, and collected the 200th win in program history with a 3-1 triumph over Iona at home.
During the 2003 season, the Red Storm set a then single-season mark for wins with a 26-9 overall record. Jackie Ahlers became the first Red Storm player to earn national recognition as an honorable mention All-American. During that season, Ahlers set what was then a BIG EAST and St. John's record for kills in a single season (608) and received first team All-BIG EAST and All-Northeast Region honors. One year later, she again broke the school and conference record for kills in a single season with 646 in addition to taking home the same three postseason honors from the previous campaign. Persico-Smith preceded the 2003 season with five consecutive winning seasons (1998-2002).
In 2000, Persico-Smith guided the Red Storm to a 25-8 overall record and a 7-4 BIG EAST mark. Olga Roudovski became St. John's first All-BIG EAST first team honoree in addition to being named to the All-Northeast Region team, while Robyn Kurasaki was honored as both the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year and Northeast Region Freshman of the Year. In 1999, St. John's finished with a 16-16 record, as Persico-Smith picked up her 100th career victory with a 3-0 sweep of conference foe West Virginia on Oct. 9. The Red Storm posted an 11-15 record during the 1997 campaign, but turned it around significantly in 1998 with a 19-15 mark.
After posting a 10-25 record in her first season as St. John's head coach in 1994, Persico Smith guided the Red Storm to a 24-10 overall record, including a 7-4 slate in conference play, marking yet again one of the biggest turnarounds in BIG EAST history in just her second season. The 1995 squad, which finished fifth in the conference standings, qualified for the program's first BIG EAST Championship appearance. The Red Storm followed up the success of the 1995 campaign, with a 24-7 record in 1996 and its second trip to the conference championships.
Under her tutelage, Persico-Smith's athletes have excelled both on and off the court. Since the program's inception in 1994, the cumulative team grade point average has never fallen below a 3.0 and a total of 56 student-athletes have earned BIG EAST Academic All-Star honors.
Off the court, members of the Red Storm volleyball team have not only received acclaim from the University, but also the BIG EAST Conference. Kristine Knobel, Victoria Migliore and Amanda Berg received $2,000 postgraduate scholarships for excelling on the court and in the classroom. In 2004, Kurasaki received the prestigious NIT Daniel E. Quilty Student Athlete Award given to the top male and female athlete that illustrates academic achievement, excellence in athletics and active participation in community service. In 2006, Caitlin Rimgaila was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District first team and a St. John's Aeropostale/BIG EAST Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Wioleta Leszczynska would follow by claiming Aeropostale/BIG EAST Female Scholar-Athlete in 2007.
In 2000, Persico-Smith established the Carmine John Persico Volleyball Award in loving memory of her father, a loyal supporter of the St. John's volleyball program. This award is presented to a fan or supporter of the volleyball program for distinguished, devoted and loyal support, the qualities most exemplified by Mr. Persico. She also established the Carmine John Persico Memorial Fund. Generous donations to this fund have brought about the institution of two other volleyball awards. The Margaret Fitzpatrick, S.C., Award is presented to a member of the volleyball team who exhibits athletic excellence, sportsmanship and exceptional academic standing as a model studentathlete. The Kathleen Murphy Meehan Award is presented to a member of the volleyball team who exhibits the leadership, integrity, sponsorship and dedication for whom the award is named. In 2007, Hui Ping Huang and Liz Austin received these awards, respectively.
The aforementioned awards are two of many presented annually at the St. John's Athletic Awards Dinner. Additionally, the Rickard F. McSwiney Award is awarded to the male and female student- athlete who best typifies the "St. John's man and woman." During the past few years, several members of the volleyball team have been the proud recipients of this award. In 1997, Paula and Victoria Migliore shared the honor; in 1998 the award was presented to Connie Chae; in 1999 Knobel took home the award; in 2000 Berg was honored; in 2004 Kurasaki received the accolade and in 2006 Hardimon was given the award. In 2005, Rimgaila joined eight other former volleyball players to be named to the prestigious President's Society. They include Rimgaila, Berg, Kurasaki, the Migliore twins, Knobel, Stephanie Leuhr, Jenna Panatier and Meaghan Creedon. In 2001, Allison Heckl was selected to represent St. John's at the International Peace and Development Conference in Vietnam.