Aug. 27, 2009
QUEENS, N.Y. - The St. John's volleyball travels to Richmond, Va. for the VCU/Third Degree Sportswear Invitational, with matches slated on August 28 and 29 against East Carolina, VCU and Temple. Veteran head coach Joanne Persico takes her largest recruiting class into 2009, welcoming a sleuth of newcomers, to fill four starting roles and chase the goal of a fourth regular-season BIG EAST title.
2009 marks the eighth time in 15 seasons that a season-opener has occurred on neutral territory, the last coming in 2007, and 12th time that the Red Storm has played its season debut away from home. This is the Red Storm's first-ever trip to Virginia Commonwealth. STJ faced the Rams for the first time on September 30, 1995, in Storrs, Conn, as the Red Storm returned with a 3-0 victory.
SCOUTING THE PIRATES
East Carolina brought home a 13-19 record in 2009 and finished 12th in Conference USA with a 3-13 league record. The Pirates return six starters for the fall, including their top-three hitters from 2008 in junior Lizzy Bruin (235 kills) and seniors Stephanie Turner (241 kills) and Melissa Zentner (226 kills). The 2009 season opener between St. John's and East Carolina is the first-ever meeting between the two. It also marks the first time in STJ's 16-year program history that the Red Storm will open a season against a Conference USA institution.
SCOUTING THE RAMS
Virginia Commonwealth finished at 19-13, 10-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2008 and to place second in the conference. VCU welcomes back three starters and five newcomers in 2009. The Rams return two of their top-three kill leaders from last season in senior Ivana Rich (229) and junior Jessica Ojukwu (243). VCU was 7-4 at home in 2008 and opens its 2009 season on August 28 with Temple in the opening round of its own VCU/Third Degree Sportswear Invitational. St. John's leads the all-time series between the two at 3-0. The last meeting came in 2007 at the Penn State Classic, with the Red Storm emerging with a 3-2 victory.
SCOUTING THE OWLS
Temple went 15-15 in 2008, finishing third in the East division of the Atlantic 10 at 6-7. Temple loses just two starters from last season and will look to build on the experience of seniors Yun Yi Zhang and Jackie Morrision. Zhang averaged 4.76 kills per set a year ago to lead the Owls, while Morrison tallied 10.52 assists per set and 1,147 assists on the season. Junior Ariel Pierre notched 500 digs in 2008 to round out a trio of two and three-year veterans whose experience will lead the Owls on the court. The all-time series between Temple and the Red Storm is knotted at 1-1. The two last faced off in 1996 on neutral territory at Maryland-Baltimore County.
The Red Storm makes its local debut on Tuesday, September 1 at Stony Brook. STJ owns an 8-1 advantage in the series record, capturing the last five consecutive matches. The Sea Wolves last upset the Red Storm in 2002, taking each of the first four sets to 30 points. St. John's has defeated Stony Brook in each match played outside of Queens.
2009 SEASON OUTLOOK Head coach Joanne Persico and the St. John's women's volleyball team enters their 16th season in 2009. STJ has risen to new heights since the start of the program in 1994, tallying 314 victories, 11 All-Americans and three BIG EAST championships. In 2007, St. John's advanced to the NCAA regional semifinal round of 16 in its second-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Red Storm captured its third-consecutive regular season BIG EAST title in 2008 and made its fourth-straight trip to the BIG EAST Tournament, bringing home a 22-9 record. Persico also surpassed the 300-win plateau during the 2008 campaign. STJ will feel the loss of All-Americans Wioleta Leszczynska, Valeria Kovaleva and Lena Yee as well as Casie Brooks and Chen Chen, but return seven from the 2008 squad. The Red Storm will rely on newcomers to compete for starting roles at setter and on the right side. There is plenty of veteran depth in the middle and on the outside, with senior Jia Yue Zhai, juniors Diana Banya and Kun Song and sophomores Darlene Ramdin and Jordan Haskins. The Red Storm will be led this season by tri-captains Ruisa Scheffel, Banya and Song.
The Red Storm returns three to the middle in 2009, including Ramdin and Banya. Haskins will add depth to the middle hitter spot. Ramdin hit .241 in her rookie season and combined for 89 blocks, good for second-best on the squad. Banya will also be a contributor at middle-blocker, while the Red Storm welcomes newcomer Magdalena Klat to the front line. Sophomores Ramdin and Haskins will be powerful forces in the middle for St. John's. Ramdin played every set of 2008 as a rookie and tallied 199 kills. Persico will look to Ramdin as a leader at the net. "Darlene represented her national team in Trinidad and Tobago this summer," noted Persico. "We are looking for her to really make an impact in BIG EAST play this season."
Junior Kayla Motoyama is the lone veteran at libero for STJ this fall. Motoyama steps into a tough role along with freshmen Ashley Asing, Nalani I and Ivana Monserrate, slated with the task of replacing AVCA Honorable Mention All-American and three-time BIG EAST Libero of the Year Lena Yee, the all-time leader in digs at St. John's (2,079). Motoyama played in 58 sets last season and will take a leadership role on defense. "Ashley is an outstanding athlete and libero looking to come in and take over the position," said Persico. "She is quick and confident and will be welcome addition to the court." Zhai will see most of her time on defense, allowing Persico a go-to veteran in the back. Zhai's consistent defense and ability to serve under pressure will come in handy for the Red Storm this season.
Newcomers Gabriela Petkova and Ana Tracz will battle for the starting role at setter in 2009 after graduating BIG EAST Player of the Year, Wioleta Leszczynska. Leszczynska, a two-time AVCA Honorable Mention All-American, finished her career ranked third in the STJ record books for assists. "Gabriela has one of the more difficult tasks of filling the shoes of Wioleta," said Persico. "She is quick and enthusiastic and we are looking forward to her leading our team offensively and defensively."
Tracz and Song will join forces at outside hitter in 2009. Song was second on the team with 310 kills a year ago and will look to make an impact in the BIG EAST this season. "Kun has really improved over the last year," said Persico. "She will certainly be one of our court leaders this fall."
RIGHT SIDE HITTERS
Senior captain Scheffel will lead newcomers Tracz and Klat on the right side this season. Scheffel saw limited time in 2008 behind Brooks, but will be relied on this season. "I am so proud of Ruisa and all that she has been able to accomplish," said Persico. "She looks to compete for a starting position on the right side this year and I believe she is at a new level athletically and mentally."
"We have worked very hard during the offseason to prepare ourselves for a challenging schedule," said Persico. "We are also looking forward to competing for our fourth-straight BIG EAST regular season championship against a very tough slate of conference opponents." The Red Storm will kick off the 2009 campaign when it travels to Virginia Commonwealth on Friday, Aug. 28, in Richmond, Va., to take part in the VCU/Third Degree Sportswear Invitational. At the invite, St. John's will face off against East Carolina and VCU on the first day before facing Temple on Saturday. STJ will return to the friendly confines of Queens when it holds the St. John's Classic on Sept. 4 and 5 at Taffner Field House. The Red Storm will play host to former BIG EAST-foe Boston College, as well as Quinnipiac and local-rival Fordham. St. John's third tournament of the season will be Sept. 11-12 when the squad takes part in the Miami Best Western Invitational in Oxford, Ohio. There, STJ will face Miami (Ohio), Pacific and Troy. The last non-conference tournament will have the Red Storm traveling to upstate New York to play in the Cornell Invitational Sept. 18-19. St. John's will take on Buffalo, Cornell and Colgate in the all-Empire State field. In local action, STJ will play host to Siena on Sept. 8, which will be "Camper Reunion Day" for participants in the 2009 Summer Series Volleyball Clinic. St. John's will also host LIU on Sept. 22 and will travel to Stony Brook (Sept. 1). STJ matches up against Hofstra on Sept 16, as the Red Storm and the Pride battle in Hempstead for the eighth annual Queens/Nassau Cup match. BIG EAST action begins the weekend of Sept. 25 when the Red Storm welcomes DePaul and Notre Dame (Sept. 27). St. John's takes to the road again to face Georgetown (Oct. 2) and USF (Oct. 4). The squad will then move back into a renovated Carnesecca Arena when it hosts Syracuse on Oct. 10 in the second annual "Dig for the Cure" event to raise funds for breast cancer awareness. The next day STJ will welcome Marquette to Queens. After stopping off to play at Villanova October 18, the Red Storm comes back to campus for its final three home matches of the season: Connecticut (Oct. 24), Pittsburgh (Oct. 30), and West Virginia (Nov. 1). The last four matches of the regular season will be on the road at Seton Hall (Nov. 6), Rutgers (Nov. 8), Louisville (Nov. 13) and Cincinnati (Nov. 15).