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Red Storm’s team of killers intimidates college circuit

TimesLedger Newspapers

St. John’s’ array of volleyball hitters have been a nightmarish group for opponents in the early season, leaving other teams to wonder where the next kill will come from. The Red Storm players themselves are asking the same thing at times. The team’s competition for kills has bred success.

“We are fighting for those spots,” sophomore outside hitter Aleksandra Wachowicz said. “It motivates us. We work harder. We never know who is going to start the game.”

Wachowicz’s spot is relatively safe as one of the team’s leaders in kills, thanks to her big and accurate arm. She is joined by blossoming freshman Karin Palgutova and Milica Krstojevic, both of whom have more than 100 kills 18 games into the season. Middle hitter Ashley Boursiquot and freshman Shawna Lei-Santos can also be counted on to put it down with authority. St. John’s is off to a 15-3 start and 2-0 in the Big East.

“They are growing together as a unit,” head Coach Joanne Persico said. “Those freshwomen are a good class.”

From that group, Palgutova has been the rising star. She came off the bench early in the season and is battling Wachowicz for the team lead in kills, including 19 against Long Island University and 14 last week in a three-set win over Iona. She is one of the Big East’s most consistent servers. Palgutova was named to the Big East honor roll for the second time last week and became the first St. John’s freshman to do so since 2005. Smith believes she and setter Sabina Piegza have forged a connection and it’s relaxed.

“She can be even better,” Piegza said. “She’s young.”

Palgutova is one of nine underclassmen on the Red Storm roster, but there is a core of veterans around them, which has led to a balanced attack. Piegza has meshed the hitters together and senior libero Gabriela Petkova is currently fourth on the school’s assists lists. They are part of a squad that forms a unique blend of old and young along with foreign born and American players.

“They have different challenges, different cultures, different languages, but we all have volleyball in common,” Perisco said. “I think that’s helped them and they are pretty good. They have confidence.”

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