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Five alive! Women win gold again

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Joanne Persico-Smith was covered in sweat and completely exhausted as she lay on the trainer’s table. The celebration from winning a fifth straight gold medal with the New York City women’s open team at the Empire State Games was over and now ice was on the menu.

The 42-year-old St. John’s women’s volleyball coach, who was playing in her 26th Games, was supposed to head up to SUNY Cortland this summer as a back-up like she had last year and the year before. The old legs aren’t what they used to be, of course. But when Valeria Kovaleva, one of Persico-Smith’s players at St. John’s, went down with a foot injury, the veteran had to become the team’s starting setter.

And after playing in 12 sets Saturday, including the one-set playoff victory against Long Island to win the gold medal, on top of 15 sets last Thursday and Friday, Persico-Smith was entirely drained. She had planned to call it quits after this year’s Games anyway, but the toll her body took over the weekend confirmed it.

“It’s hard to go off when you’re winning,” the Bellerose native said. “But I know I’m done.”

She’s said it before, but she swears she means it this time. There is, after all, nothing left to prove.

“She’s amazing,” said Hui Ping Huang, an AVCA All-American at St. John’s and one of NYC’s best players. “She’s trying her best.”

It was on a team that you couldn’t call a favorite as in years past. Starting were two open first-timers: libero Ariel Pierre, a St. Francis Prep grad who is a sophomore at Temple, and Angelina Waterman, an Archbishop Molloy product who is a sophomore at American University. Both shined in key spots and Waterman came up big in the 25-17 one-set playoff win against Long Island.

“We’ve got great heart,” Persico-Smith said.

A fine example wasn’t the only thing she set.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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