November 7, 2018

PHS Girls’ Volleyball Falls in State Opener, But Senior Star Drobnjak Enjoys the Ride

By Bill Alden

After the Princeton High girls’ volleyball team dropped the first set of its Group 4 state tournament opening round match against visiting Cherokee, Natalia Drobnjak knew the season was on the line.

“In the second set we just tried to come out with a bit more fire, energy, and a sense of urgency,” said senior libero Drobnjak

The 16th-seeded Little Tigers fought hard but came up short, falling 2-0 (25-17, 25-16) to 17th-seeded Cherokee to end the fall with a 20-6 record.

While Drobnjak was disappointed with the outcome, she was proud of how the program remained competitive in the wake of its 31-2 season last fall.

“I know a lot of people were worried that we would drop off the cliff completely this year,” said Drobnjak. “We lost a lot of great players, but everyone worked so hard in the offseason and came into preseason with so much fire and motivation. It really showed with how well we played again.”

Drobnjak enjoyed motivating her teammates in her role as co-captain along with classmate Viva Bell. “It has been wonderful, I could not have asked for a better group,” said Drobnjak.

Seeing the group raise its skill level collectively has been heartening for Drobnjak.

“The proudest thing for me is just coming in and seeing the level of play and the difference from my freshman year to now,” said Drobnjak.“Everyone now is playing in the offseason throughout the year. We all play club volleyball for the most part.”

PHS head coach Patty Manhart acknowledged that her squad didn’t play its best in the loss to the Chiefs.

“Maybe there was a little bit of nerves; there were juniors here who were playing their first state game,” said Manhart. “That can happen where you just don’t play like yourselves.”

Manhart was hoping that her players would get past the nerves in the second set.

“It was just play better in the second set, but technically I didn’t think there was anything to change. It was not something being picked on by the other team,” said Manhart.

“It was just improve on our side and stop making unforced errors. I would have liked to see a little better from them.”

In assessing the season, Manhart acknowledged that she was hoping for a better run in the state tournament.

“The highlight was at least keeping things going by winning our league playoff,” said Manhart, whose team defeated Northern Burlington 2-1 in the final round of the BCSL (Burlington County Scholastic League) tournament.

“This was the first year where it was a step back from our performance in states. We were knocked out the first round two years and knocked in the third round last year and now we are knocked out in the first round. That is a bit of a disappointment.”

The contribution of the team’s seniors helped keep things going in the right
direction for PHS.

“They were here for a tough year so they are really invested in the program,” said Manhart, whose group of seniors included Olivia Corrodi and Cami Strauss in addition to Bell and Drobnjak. 

“All the girls have been playing since their freshman year and have taken a big role on the team. We have had lot of heart and a lot of leadership from them.”

With such juniors as Gillian Hauschild, Kim Cheng, Gwen Matsukawa, Cosette Hansen, and Emily Dobler coming back, Manhart is confident that the Little Tigers can do big things next fall.

“What hurts us today in having new people who haven’t played states is going help us next year when we have everyone coming back and only one or two spots to fill,” said Manhart.

Drobnjak, for her part, has relished her four years with the program.

“It is just the sense of community; my best friends have come from this team,” said Drobnjak. “It is truly such a loving group and I could not asked to be part of a better group.”