October 25, 2017

Solidifying Its Status as Rising Powerhouse, PHS Girls’ Volleyball Wins WJIVL Tourney

KILLING IT: Princeton High girls’ volleyball player Gillian Hauschild celebrates a point as PHS defeated Hillsborough 2-0 (25-14, 25-17) last Wednesday. Sophomore star Hauschild helped second-seeded PHS defeat top-seeded Rancocas Valley 2-0 (25-21, 25-12) in the WJIVL (West Jersey Interscholastic Volleyball League) title game last Monday at Rider University. The Little Tigers, now 28-1, host Lawrenceville on October 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Anna Cao was looking for a change athletically when she entered the eighth grade in 2013.

“I used to swim but that took up a lot of time so I started something new in volleyball,” said Cao.

“I started at a summer camp at CJVA (Central Jersey Volleyball Academy) and then I started playing for the Princeton Volleyball Club.”

Taking to her new sport, Cao went on to Princeton High and helped its volleyball program go from a club squad to a powerhouse varsity team.

“It has been so great to see how these girls have improved so much,” said senior outside and senior co-captain Cao. “It has been a really great experience watching everyone grow.”

Last Monday, Cao and the Little Tigers enjoyed a special experience as second-seeded PHS defeated top-seeded Rancocas Valley 2-0 (25-21, 25-12) in the WJIVL (West Jersey Interscholastic Volleyball League) title game at Rider University.

It was the second straight WJIVL title for PHS, which improved to 28-1 with the win and is next in action when it hosts Lawrenceville on October 25.

The partnership between Cao and classmate and co-captain setter Rachel Cheng helped power the Little Tigers to the win over Rancocas Valley as Cao had seven kills in the title match while Cheng contributed 13 assists and two kills.

“Rachel and I are pretty close friends so that helps a lot,” said Cao. “We practice a lot together and it has really been helping and she has been doing so well.”

Together with Cheng, Cao tries to set a positive tone for PHS. “As a captain, I really try to keep the spirits up on the court and make sure that everyone is energized, upbeat, and optimistic during the game,” said Cao, who has committed to attend Carnegie Mellon University and join its women’s volleyball program.

“On the court, I am hoping to lead my team and set an example and really make sure that I can contribute to my team.”

On the court, Cao focuses on contributing in her spot on the front row.

“I have always been a hitter,” said Cao. “Improving on hitting has been No. 1 and improving on defense as well.”

PHS head coach Patty Manhart is thrilled with the improvement she has seen from Cao.

“Anna is an all-star; she is the first player that we have from PHS who committed to playing in college,” said Manhart.

“That is another piece of PHS volleyball history that she gets to lay the foundation for.”

Cao’s partnership with Cheng is a key factor in the success of the Little Tigers.

“They are both captains and they work together on a lot of stuff,” added Manhart.

“They know how to communicate with each other, how to make changes, and how to make things work. Anna is purposefully positioned to start the game up front to get us some points and build that confidence. She is an all around player, she can do everything.”

With nearly all of its players returning from a squad that went 17-5 last season, Manhart was confident coming into the 2017 campaign.

“Our starting point coming back was really solid; that comes from these girls having that experience,” said Manhart.

“This is not a rebuilding year for us. This was our baseline and we have been fine-tuning. We have progressed throughout the course of the season. We have all gotten better and we have room to grow.”

Looking ahead to the WJIVL tourney, Manhart sensed that her squad was primed to earn a second straight title.

“We need to be doing everything we are capable of doing, everything needs to be on,” said Manhart, noting that the team’s one defeat this season came to Rancocas Valley.

“It is going to be in a big arena and that is new for us. We never had that setting so I am looking forward to the girls rising to being in such an exciting atmosphere.”

Cao, for her part, believed the Little Tigers would rise to the occasion.

“I think we need to really come out strong, we have really great hitters in Gillian (Hauschild), Sara (Vigiano), and Kim (Cheng),” said Cao.

“Natalia (Drobnjak) is doing a great job on the defense and Rachel has so many assists already. We have really bonded.”