The Red Storm wins the BIG EAST Championship for the first time in 12 years and earns a bid to the 2019 NCAA Tournament
After upsetting No. 10 Creighton with a three-set sweep on Friday night, the St. John's volleyball team stunned the nation once again, defeating No. 12 Marquette in four sets to capture its first conference championship in 12 years on Saturday afternoon at the Al McGuire Center.
The Johnnies grabbed the first two sets, 25-20 and 25-22 before Marquette took the third frame, 25-19. However, the Red Storm refused to let up, capturing the fourth set, 25-21, to earn a bid to the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
St. John's becomes the first fourth-seeded team to win the tournament since the conference's reconfiguration in 2013.
"First of all, we thank God for allowing us to do what we love and allowing the players on our team to stay healthy all year for the most part, so first we want to thank God because nothing happens without him," said Head Coach Joanne Persico.
"I think we had great team chemistry over the last few weeks, which was really great. We've always had good team chemistry, but I thought in tough moments, we stayed composed. I told the team before that I usually bring a check-in bag, but I brought a big suitcase. I said, 'we have to bring something home,' so I'm really proud of this team and it will be a memorable day for us forever."
Efrosini Alexakou was named the tournament's most outstanding player after putting down 29 kills across the Red Storm's two victories. Alexakou, along with senior setter Erica Di Maulo and sophomore right side hitter Rachele Rastelli also earned nods to the All-BIG EAST Tournament Team.
Alexakou led St. John's with 19 kills in the win while Rastelli put down 15 kills of her own. Di Maulo dished out 45 assists and collected 10 digs, four kills and three blocks.
Junior outside hitter Klara Mikelova was a force on both sides of the floor for the Johnnies, recording 10 kills and a match-high 18 digs. Senior Amanda Sanabia also racked up 12 digs while middle blocker Ariadni Kathariou led both teams with five blocks.
St. John's took an early four-point lead in the opening set, 7-3. The Johnnies continued to push the pace as a block from Rastelli and Kathariou kept the Red Storm out in front by four, 13-9. The two teams traded points with the Golden Eagles cutting the deficit to one midway through the set, 16-14. After a kill from Marquette set the score at 17-15, St. John's notched five unanswered points as a kill from Alexakou gave the Red storm a six-point lead, 21-15. Despite the Golden Eagles going on a quick 2-0 spurt with the Johnnies sitting at set point, 24-20, an attack error from Marquette helped St. John's close out the first frame, 25-20.
The Johnnies continued their momentum heading into set number two, kicking off the frame with a 5-1 lead. While Marquette worked its way back to stay within one, 7-6, the Red Storm refused to let up, going on a 3-0 run to extend the deficit to four, 10-6. St. John's worked to extend its lead as the Golden Eagles stayed on the heels of the Johnnies midway through the frame, 16-14. However, the Red Storm were relentless with a kill from Rastelli capping off a 6-1 stanza to put the team up by seven, 22-15. Marquette later scored four straight points to cut the deficit to two, 23-21. The two teams exchanged points before a kill from Mikelova gave St. John's the second frame, 25-22, and a 2-0 match lead.
In the third set, St. John's trailed Marquette by four points early on, 8-4. The Johnnies worked to cut the lead with a kill from Kathariou putting the Red Storm within two, 11-9. As the set wore on, Marquette held strong, taking a nine-point lead following a 5-0 run, 19-10. The Johnnies responded by scoring five unanswered points to cut the deficit to four, 19-15. The two teams went point-for-point before the Golden Eagles recorded two kills to take the third, 25-19.
The fourth set started out as a tight battle with St. Johns and Marquette standing neck-and-neck, 6-6. After the Golden Eagles took a three-point lead, 10-7, the Red Storm erupted on a 9-1 scoring run as a pair of kills from Rastelli helped put the Johnnies up by five, 16-11. St. John's continued to hold the lead late in the set with a Rastelli kill putting the Red Storm at match point, 24-19. Marquette went on to pick up the next two points, 24-21, but a kill from Mikelova sealed the deal, giving St. John's the fourth frame, 25-21, and the BIG EAST Championship title.
The Red Storm awaits tomorrow's NCAA selection show to see which team St. John's will face in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.