By Laura Amato
For three St. John’s volleyball stars, one big thing to remember is to not speak Italian on the court.
Erica Di Maulo, Gaia Traballi and Margherita Bianchin grew up thousands of miles away from the St. John’s campus—playing volleyball in Italy—but the trio found their way to Queens and the group have settled into their roles with relative ease.
It hasn’t always been easy—that pesky language barrier does get in the way from time to time—but the Red Storm’s Italian coalition is determined to make sure things work, both on and off the court.
“In a game point of view, it’s a lot easier to play [when we’re together]. We can communicate faster on the court,” said Bianchin, a sophomore outside hitter and captain this season.
“We had to learn how to manage the situation because we play in America and our teammates speak English on the court. We learn that we can’t talk too much in Italian because our teammates have to understand what’s going on. But we’re definitely getting better.”
Bianchin, who leads the team in kills (point-scoring plays) this season, came to St. John’s a year before her teammates—recruited by Red Storm coach Joanne Persico—but she did her best to make sure both Di Maulo and Traballi were comfortable as soon as they got on campus.
The trio communicated before the season began this fall and the team has welcomed the group with open arms. After all, the three of them have become a key part of the Red Storm’s plans this season.
“I don’t like to use cliches like changing the culture, but I think we’ve really done a good job of creating an atmosphere where they feel safe and secure and supported,” Persico said. “They’ve worked so hard just to get here, taking the SAT in another language, and everything is totally different. We’re really proud of them and we’re really pushing everybody.”
St. John’s is a young squad this season, starting four freshmen, but the Red Storm is also determined and its Italian trio is focused on one goal—winning.
After all, they didn’t cross an ocean to come up short of that goal.
“I think we have moments when we play really well and then there are moments when we play really bad,” Di Maulo said. “If we can manage this attitude, I think we can do really well.”
They Red Storm team may be young, but they boast some serious experience, including the Italian trio. In fact, Traballi and Di Maulo are well acquainted with each other’s games—having competed together and against each other while they were growing up.
“In Italy we played a lot of years and many of us have played in a national championship or at a playoff level,” said Traballi, who boasts 177 kills this season. “I think we are young, but know what we are doing and we know how to do it.”
The Red Storm’s Italian trio isn’t the only international aspect of this team. The squad boasts six players from other countries and while finding and even footing hasn’t always been easy, St. John’s main goal—winning—is clear in any language.
“This is what we’re trying to show to everyone,” Persico said. “We are different, but we have common goals and we love to play volleyball and a lot of positive things can come out of that.”