By Troy Mauriello
A number of strong showings in early season tournaments across the country have the St. John’s women’s volleyball team building momentum as it prepares to begin Big East play later this month.
The Johnnies boast an impressive 8-6 record through their first 14 games following the Jack Kaiser Volleyball Classic at St. John’s, the Albany Invitational, the Cornell Invitational and the Baylor Classic in Waco, Texas.
The Red Storm hosted the Jack Kaiser Volleyball Classic on campus to begin the season against local rivals Holy Cross and Connecticut, along with New Hampshire and Sacramento State.
Looking to defend their championship from last season’s tournament — they won all three of their matches — St. John’s once again got off to a hot start this season, with three straight wins to kick off the weekend.
Leading the way for the Red Storm was sophomore Erica Di Maulo, who won her second straight Most Valuable Player award for the tournament in as many seasons at St. John’s. Di Maulo recorded 37 assists in the Red Storm’s third straight win over New Hampshire. Senior Julia Cast and freshman Jordan McCalla made their presence felt at the net, with 14 and 13 kills, respectively.
While the Red Storm fell to UConn, they finished the tournament with a 3-1 record and captured a championship for the second straight season. Di Maulo, McCalla and Hanna Wagner were each named to the All-Tournament team.
The Red Storm then set its sights on the Albany Invitational, joining hosts Albany along with Temple and Colgate.
In the Johnnies’ opening game against Albany, McCalla — building off a strong start to her collegiate career — had 11 kills and 11 digs. Di Maulo also recorded a double-double, her third of the season, with 34 assists and 10 digs.
Despite dropping a game against Temple to start Day Two, St. John’s finished the day with an exclamation point in the form of a 3-0 sweep against previously-undefeated Colgate. The Red Storm used a team effort to power their way to victory, aided by a 12-2 run in the third and deciding set to help seal the victory.
One week later, St. John’s continued its tour of northern New York with a trip to Ithaca to play in the Cornell Invitational. Joining Valparaiso, Binghamton and hosts Cornell, the Johnnies got off to a stellar start in the tournament’s first day.
St. John’s blanked Valparaiso in straight sets to earn their sixth victory and fifth sweep of the year. The Red Storm had three players reach at least 10 kills on the afternoon, but the St. John’s defense was ultimately the driving force in the win.
The Red Storm combined for 10 blocks, with seven of them coming from graduate student Danisha Moss. A third-set push was boosted by an 11-3 run that gave the Johnnies a 16-8 advantage as they cruised to victory.
Following a loss the next day to Cornell, St. John’s swept through Binghamton to finish 2-1 in the two-day tournament, which resulted in a three-way tie for the championship. As a result of having the highest set percentage and least amount of sets lost during their three games, the Red Storm were crowned champions of the invitational.
After winning their second non-conference tournament in their hot start to the young season, St. John’s traveled a bit further away from home, making a nearly 2,000-mile trek from Queens to Waco, Texas, to compete in their final non-conference tournament.
Despite dropping their first two games of the tournament to locals Texas-San Antonio and host Baylor, the Johnnies ended the weekend on a high note with a come-from-behind win over Texas State.
After dropping the first set of the match against the Bobcats, the Red Storm ran off three straight sets to clinch a 3-1 victory.
Now with the non-conference portion of their schedule filled out, the Red Storm head to the windy city to kick off conference play against DePaul.
This year’s St. John’s team looks to break a frustrating streak of nine straight losing seasons in Big East play, as the last Red Storm team to finish above .500 in conference came in 2008.