St. John's Women's Volleyball 2012 Season Preview|
Aug. 22, 2012
QUEENS, N.Y. – Entering its 19th season as a program, the St. John’s volleyball team will feature a diverse roster of veteran experience and former high school standouts in the 2012 campaign. The team returns nine letterwinners, including team captain senior Gabriela Petkova, and welcomes eight newcomers.
Shawna-Lei Santos, Yaidy Santiago, and Briana Guzman headline a seven-person freshman class, the largest on the team. The trio, which was previously announced in December, is expected to make an immediate contribution on the court and will receive a great deal of playing time at the libero, outside hitter, and middle blocker positions.
The coaching staff also receives some new blood as Joanne Persico, the only head coach in STJ volleyball history, welcomes two new assistants in Renwick Cefra and Maxim Auguste. Persico is also re-joined on the bench by associate head coach Mario Treibit, who is entering his 13th season at St. John’s. The duo will be seeking their fifth BIG EAST championship and third NCAA appearance.
A transfer from the University of Oregon, senior Milica Krstojevic proved to be a solid contributor in the middle at the Division I level. After being named a first team Junior College All-American at Florida State College at Jacksonville in 2010, Krstojevic transferred to Oregon, where she helped lead the Ducks to a 21-10 record and No. 24 national ranking. Krstojevic led the Ducks in blocks per set average (0.69), tied for second-most blocks (67), had the second-best attacking percentage (.298), and had the fourth-most kills (100).
“We’ve been pleased with Milica’s transition from Oregon to St. John’s,” Persico said. “She’s our vocal leader, brings senior leadership to the court, and we look for her to make big plays when we need them.”
A freshman from North Bergen, N.J., Guzman figures to see plenty of playing time at the middle blocker position after setting her high school’s career blocks record in just two years. She was also just one of 10 players from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to compete on Garden Empire Volleyball Association's High Performance Team in summer 2011.
“We’re pleased and honored for Briana to wear red and white this year,” Persico said, “A local lady, she brings a great deal of spirit and athleticism to the lineup. We know she will see some court time this year and is definitely someone to look out for in the future.”
After leading all freshmen in blocks last year, sophomore Ashley Boursiquot will receive the opportunity to build off of her solid rookie campaign.
“We look for Ashley to get a lot of time this year. She’s well-respected and we think her personality is great for the team – it’s contagious. She continues to get better everyday and has a lot of upside.”
Freshman Artiana Wynder, a two-sport star at Uniondale, will add depth to the middle of the court.
A model of consistency, Petkova played in every single set in both her freshman and junior seasons and has missed just nine sets in her three-year St. John’s career. Last season, Petkova set a new-career high for digs (381) and became the fifth member of the 2,000-assist club. She will play a major role in 2012, as she will be heavily relied upon for her veteran leadership and stellar defensive play.
“Gabriela is an outstanding student-athlete,” Persico said, “She is a member of the President’s Society, which is the highest honor at the University. We look for her to continue to add great leadership and are excited for her to quarterback the back row.”
Santos, who has the athletic ability to play at any position, will play primarily as a libero, but will also see time as a defensive specialist when a tall front row is needed. The native of Hawaii Kai, Hawaii has been heavily involved with U.S. national teams since 2006. She has won four total medals with USA High Performance and received all-tournament honors as a member of the 2011 U.S. Junior National Team. Persico has stated that the rookie will see the floor immediately.
“Although Shawna is just a freshman, she gained a great deal of experience this past year playing for the Imi’Ike club team and the U.S. Junior National Team. We’re very proud of Shawna and excited she’s wearing the red and white. She is a student of the game and will contribute right away.”
After seeing considerable playing time in her freshman season, sophomore Morgan Thomas, figures to see plenty of action at the defensive specialist spot this year. In 2011, Thomas’ 89 digs led all freshmen and ranked fifth on the team.
“Morgan has come back in fine shape this season,” Persico said, “She is a quiet leader, but an outstanding teammate and someone I look to in the future to become a captain.”
Senior Sabina Piegza will be the primary setter in 2012 after compiling a team-best 758 assists and 9.02 assists per set average. The 6-foot-2 native of Poland also had a 9.19 assists per set average in BIG EAST play, which ranked tenth in the conference.
“On the front row, it’s nice to have a tall setter like Sabina,” Persico said, “She has a year of setting in the BIG EAST under her belt, which is something you can’t teach. We feel that Sabina has improved defensively and we’ll really see some great leadership from her.”
Backing up Piegza will be freshman Deniz Mutlugil. The native of Istanbul won the 2011 Turkish national championship with her club team and won the Istanbul city championship in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
“Deniz comes from a great volleyball family – both her mother and father played for the Turkish National Team,” Persico said. “Deniz is a student of the game and is a pretty tough kid, which we know will translate into success on the volleyball court.”
OUTSIDE/RIGHT SIDE HITTER
After a rookie campaign in which she led the team in service aces and ranked fourth in kills, sophomore Aleksandra Wachowicz figures to not only be the primary server, but to play a role as a primary attacker as well.
“Aleksandra is perhaps our most improved player from last season. She’s performing in the front row and the back row, which is a new role for her. After beginning 2011 as a substitute, she worked really hard over the year, gained strength in the weight room, and is really ready to go for us this year.
Santiago, the Red Storm’s first player from Puerto Rico, will see considerable floor time in her rookie season if she can make the improvements the coaching staff would like to see. With her club team, Santiago won a gold medal at the Puerto Rico Under-21 National Championship and received all-tournament honors. Her club team also qualified for the USA Volleyball Nationals in both 2010 and 2011 in the 16 and 17 open divisions, respectively.
“Yaidy is a delight to coach as she takes in a lot of information and is very versatile,” Persico said, “She has all the skills, she just needs to refine a few of her back row skills and work on her physicality. She comes from a great program in Puerto Rico and we look forward to her being a nice addition to the outside and right side hitting spots.”
Sophomore Yana Vavdiyuk also figures to be in the mix for playing time at the deep outside and right side hitter positions. The Ukrainian finished her rookie campaign strong, registering 84 of her 115 kills in the final 10 games.
“Yana came to us at 17-years-old and over the past year has really grown,” Persico said, “She keeps getting better everyday and has a great attitude this year.”
St. John’s will begin the 2012 campaign on Aug. 24 by taking on Morgan State, UMBC, Towson, and host Coppin State at the Battle of the Bay in Baltimore, Md. The Red Storm will play a pair of doubleheaders over two days before returning to Queens for their home opener against Siena on Aug. 29.
The Red Storm will then travel to New Britain, Conn. for the Central Connecticut State Invitational (Aug. 31-Sept. 1). St. John’s will play Brown, Holy Cross, and host Central Connecticut State.
In honor of Athletics Director Emeritus Jack Kaiser, St. John’s volleyball will host its own tournament – The Kaiser Classic – from Sept. 7-8.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to give back and say thank you to Mr. Kaiser,” said Coach Persico. “He was my first Athletics Director here and we’re privileged to have him as an outstanding leader and mentor.”
The Kaiser Classic pins St. John’s against local rivals Fairleigh Dickinson, St. Francis, and Bryant as well as Big Sky opponent Idaho State.
The Red Storm will then begin its third consecutive tournament with LIU Brooklyn’s annual installment of the Blackbird Invitational (Sept. 14-15). St. John’s will match up against Maryland, NJIT, and host LIU.
After a home game against Iona on Sept. 18, the Red Storm will begin BIG EAST play with three-consecutive home games against Georgetown (Sept. 21), Villanova (Sept. 23), and UConn (Sept. 29).
“Every BIG EAST match is important to us and to our opponents,” said Coach Persico. “We need to learn from each BIG EAST match and be ready for the next one.”
St. John’s will then play its first two BIG EAST road games with a matchup against DePaul (Oct. 5) and Notre Dame (Oct. 7).
A two-game homestand against 2011 NCAA Tournament Second Round participants Louisville (Oct. 12) and Cincinnati (Oct. 14) will be followed by a two game road trip to Pittsburgh (Oct. 19) and South Florida (Oct. 21).
The Red Storm will clash against BIG EAST local rivals Seton Hall (Oct. 26) and Rutgers (Oct. 28) before getting back on the road for a three-game trip against Syracuse (Nov. 2), Marquette (Nov. 4), and Rutgers (Nov. 7).
A Senior Day matchup against DePaul (Nov. 9) marks the end of the regular season for St. John’s.
The BIG EAST Conference Tournament will be held in Pittsburgh, Pa. at the University of Pittsburgh from Nov. 16-18.
Follow all the home matches live via GameTracker (free) and StormTracker All-Access (subscription) on RedStormSports.com this season. For more on St. John's volleyball, log onto redstormsports.com or follow the team on twitter (@STJ_Volleyball) using the hashtag: #stjvball.