Building on Breakthrough 17-5 Campaign, PHS Girls’ Volleyball Produces Sizzling Start
By Bill Alden
After producing a breakthrough 17-5 campaign in 2016, the Princeton High girls’ volleyball team couldn’t wait to get back on the court this fall.
“The message was that it feels like we are picking up where we left off,” said PHS head coach Patty Manhart.
“When you don’t graduate too many starters, it is a huge difference moving forward from last year to this year.”
In the wake of last season’s success, Manhart has raised the bar schedule-wise.
“In the WJIVL (West Jersey Interscholastic Volleyball League), the league we play in, some schools are Group 4 but we didn’t necessarily have a lot of Group 4 teams on our schedule,” said Manhart.
“I am thinking more long term. I wanted to get teams like East Brunswick and Hillsborough to help out with our seed standings for postseason.”
PHS didn’t waste any time showing it could handle tougher competition, defeating East Brunswick 2-0 in its season opener on September 5.
“It is a good confidence builder to go up against a new opponent that is traditionally a very strong program and be able to take that win,” said Manhart. “I think that really helped the girls keep things rolling after that.”
The Little Tigers have kept rolling, producing a program-best 12-0 start before falling 2-0 to Rancocas Valley last Saturday.
“The big picture is that there is a lot to be happy about but I think it is everyone’s ability to contribute,” said Manhart, whose team defeated Montgomery 2-0 last Monday to improve to 14-1.
“Everyone has to be on their own A-game each day, be there for one another, pick each other up, and play together in order to be successful. The fact that I have got a great group of girls that are all consistent and can get the job done is really exciting.”
Senior star Anna Cao has been getting the job done as she is currently second on the team in kills (82) and third in service aces (33).
“Anna is a captain and is a leader on the team,” said Manhart. “As a hitter, she is very smart, she has a great vertical and a killer arm swing. She has everything you could want.”
Another key hitter for the Little Tigers is sophomore Gillian Hauschild, who is the team leader in kills with 97.
“She is 6 feet tall and she is left-handed which makes her a useful player on defense,” said Manhart.
“She is also there to block the other team’s outside, who is usually going to be a very strong hitter. She was also playing very competitive volleyball this summer. She has come back to this program even stronger than she started as a freshman.”
PHS has relied on senior co-captain Rachel Cheng to serve as the catalyst for its big hitters as she piled up a team-high 150 assists.
“Rachel has been doing a really nice job, making smart sets,” said Manhart.
“She is really thinking about how to use the hitters and mixing things up so blockers don’t always get set on our attack. She is a very smart player.”
Senior Sara Vigiano and junior Julia Brown have done a nice job stepping into the starting rotation this fall.
“We didn’t graduate too many people except for Noa Levy so we had a spot in the middle,” said Manhart.
“Sara moved into that one option out of the middle. Julia came up from junior varsity and she is in the two position in the middle.”
While Manhart is thrilled with the team’s sizzling start, she has her sights set on guiding the squad to a stronger finish in the postseason this fall with PHS having lost in the first round of the state Group 4 tournament in 2016.
“There are a lot of really good schools up north that we don’t see very often in the regular season,” said Manhart, whose team plays at Hopewell Valley on September 28 before hosting Mahwah on September 30 and a rematch with Hopewell Valley on October 3.
“We want to make sure that all hitters are producing and that we are minimizing our errors. We will make serving errors and blocking errors but we pick it up in other ways. The focus is just cutting down on that as much as possible for when we elevate the level of competition that we are going against.”