St. John’s University volleyball coach Joanne Persico is hoping that this week’s matches will go off without a hitch. On President’s Day, the team headed to Boston to take on Northeastern University, but midway there they received a call that the match had to be postponed.
“I told the bus driver to turn around,” said Persico, who is in her 27th year at St. John’s. “I waited to see how long it would take one of my players to notice we were going back…It took a while and then one of them said, ‘I don’t really know New York City that well, but I see that the houses are getting closer together.’”
This is how things are going as Division I schools are trying to resume competition. Fall sports, women’s volleyball among them, are trying to play spring seasons and adaptability is key.
“It’s taking it one day at a time and finding the positives,” said Persico, who during the time her players were off campus found ways to motivate them through Zoom meetings. She also had to navigate getting her international players back to campus. It has been a group effort involving St. John’s leadership, including director of athletics Mike Cragg and fellow coaches.
The 2019 season had been outstanding with the Red Storm winning a Big East Championship. Since there was no graduation last spring, Persico delivered the seniors their championship rings.
The team has been training since Sept. 15. Persico kept them motivated with scrimmages with a unique twist. “One team loves Panera and the other team loves Chipotle, so we had a Panera versus Chipotle competition every Friday,” Persico said. “My associate head coach Mario Treibit is an internationally well known official, and he would officiate the scrimmages. I had them play in their uniforms. That was a good way to get matches because my team is strong.”
Currently 3–1, St. John’s opened with a win over Fordham. “We were so happy to be somewhere else other than our own gymnasium,” Persico said. “The girls were so happy to be playing.”
A notable difference in match plays is that referees keep their distance and use a remote whistle. The team had to develop a new type of timeout with distancing. Everyone wears masks. The Red Storm’s last two matches were also cancelled by the opposing team. Persico tried to find a substitute, but no local teams were available and she’s intent not to stay overnight in a hotel.
“It’s day by day and adaptability,” said Persico. “We’re going to train and practice. If we can get the matches in, we’ll be there.”