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St. Francis star shines at Empire States

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She gets the "look" from her father, the men's volleyball coach at Queens College and a former professional player from Haiti who stresses words such as "concentration" and "focus" and who simulates game-type situations to prepare her for the real thing. It doesn't get much easier with her mother. Aline-Pascale Lubin is the women's volleyball coach at Queens College, and after Pierre finishes a game, Lubin is a time-bomb full of information ready to explode. To survive, Pierre, 14, has had to grow up fast."It's rare for freshmen to make varsity," said Pierre, a resident of Bellerose. "On the court I feel like one of the older players, even though at times I guess I do feel like the new kid on the block. I usually play against people who are older than me." Pierre was at it again this year at the Empire State Games, reprising her role as the precocious youngster on the girls' scholastic volleyball team, which stumbled badly in the tournament July 31, losing in the quarterfinals to Adirondack, 22-25, 25-19, 15-12, finishing 1-5 overall. Losing is something she's foreign to, having played for a Prep team that was tops in Queens last year, second in the city, and fifth-best in the state.Despite the messy exit, Pierre managed to impress the volleyball faithful at court side during the crapshoot tournament two weeks ago at Johnson City Elementary School in Binghamton, N.Y. Quietly, she gave instructions to her teammates and smoothly outplayed her age in her first Empires."She's a terrific player," said Joanne Persico-Smith, the women's volleyball coach at St. John's who played against Pierre's mother at Newtown High School when Persico-Smith was at St. Francis Prep. "She has great natural instincts and terrific technique. Her father was one of the best volleyball players I have ever seen. He could just take over a game."As the daughter of two coaches, Pierre was raised on a steady diet of love and volleyball, spending her early days sequestered in gymnasiums picking up the rudiments of the game while she learned that volleyball isn't so much a sport as it is a state of mind."I know that there are high expectations for me," Pierre said. "People expect me to be very competitive and hardworking. It's a lot of pressure to be under, but I don't mind it. It's a good kind of pressure to be under, and it makes you better." That's her father talking. At the age of 15, Karl Pierre, now 44, was playing on Haiti's national volleyball team. By the time he hit 16, he was coaching college players and was a top club player."Volleyball opened my eyes to the rest of the world," he said. "I realized that there weren't enough coaches in Haiti, so I studied on my own." He later moved to the United States, where he landed at Rutgers University, leading his team to three consecutive NCAA finals and then playing professionally in Japan, Italy and Spain, during which he kept his eye focused on a career in coaching once his playing days were over. He still plays competitive volleyball for Creole Big Apple Volleyball Club, which recently won the US Championships. As the oldest player on the team, Karl is more concerned with coaching up-and-coming players such as his daughter. "I work with Ariel on her concentration level," he said. "Whichever player can hold their concentration level the longest, will prevail. I try to create game situations with her. It's important as a player to keep an even keel so that you don't lose focus and you don't make any silly errors."Sometimes her mother has to harness the parental urge to offer advice during games. "She'll look to me in between points, and I want to help her, but maybe it's not the best time," said Lubin, who guided Queens College to the Division II finals last season. "It's tough to just sit there and watch. As a parent you want to help."Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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