November 22, 2017

PHS Girls’ Volleyball Enjoyed Landmark Season, Posting 31-2 Record, Advancing to State Quarters

SMART SET: Princeton High girls’ volleyball player Rachel Cheng sets up a ball in a match this season. Senior star Cheng helped PHS post a 31-2 record this fall. The program, which was in its fifth season on the varsity level, earned its first-ever wins in state tournament play, advancing to the Group 4 quarterfinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Making history, the Princeton High girls’ volleyball team posted its first-ever wins in state tournament play as it advanced to the Group 4 quarterfinals.

But in a measure of how far the program has come in its five years on the varsity level, the players weren’t satisfied with that tourney run.

“It definitely feels good, it is exciting; we made it to the point of what the seeding would dictate, a fourth against a fifth, which was good,” said PHS head coach Patty Manhart, whose team fell 2-1 to Westfield in the state quarters on November 4 as the Blue Devils prevailed 25-16, 15-25, 25-17.

“If you ask the girls, you will hear a tone of disappointment. It would have been fun to surprise some people and that is what the girls set their sights on. They were hoping to go as far as possible.”

In the match against Westfield, PHS battled back after a rocky start.

“The Westfield game was tough; you could tell that they had looked at film of us playing and they were very particular in what they did against us,” said Manhart.

“So in the first set, that took some getting used to and we adjusted for set two. In set three, the momentum was in their favor and they were able to pull it out.”

The PHS program gained momentum this fall as it ended the season at 31-2.

“The record is comprised of so many great matches,” said Manhart. “It was the Mahwah game (a 2-1 victory on September 30) that stood out, when we beat East Brunswick in their gym (2-1 on October 11, and the Monroe state game (2-0 in the second round on November 2). That is indicative of the girls working hard all season round and putting everything into every match. I hope they hold onto that. Your season is more likely than not going to end in a loss but it shouldn’t take away from the overall record. I hope that is what the girls leave the season with and not let that last loss color the rest of the year.”

Another great moment came when the Little Tigers avenged their lone regular season loss by topping Rancocas Valley 2-0 in the WJIVL (West Jersey Interscholastic Volleyball League) title game on October 23 to earn their second straight league crown.

“That was part of the bar that they set,” said Manhart. “They knew coming back that other teams were graduating some of their good players and we were coming back with a pretty strong core. They have had their sights set on that back-to-back; I know that girls are going to be excited that they get to put another year on the banner.”

A trio of senior stalwarts, Rachel Cheng, Anna Cao, and Sara Vigiano, helped the program raise the bar.

“Their growth from when they started to where they are now, they all see it together,” said Manhart.

“During the season, Rachel told me she feels at the peak of her volleyball career. It is such a nice feeling to see yourself getting stronger and finally have that confidence that I am good at this, I can hang with these other teams that I respect. It is nice that they are recognizing themselves in that way.”

With such standouts as junior Natalia Drobnjak, sophomore Gillian Hauschild, and sophomore Kim Cheng, slated to return, there is a strong foundation in place.

“Natalia, Gillian, and Kim can expect to hold on to those positions and hope that the younger players are going to fill in those positions around them,” said Manhart.

“They have done a really good job of promoting playing in the offseason, talking about club, and getting those other girls into it. We have a junior, Viva Bell, who got some varsity time for us in the middle. Julia Brown, another junior, is still there too so we are not losing everybody. We have Gillian on that right side; blocking is really key in her position. She might be leaned on more heavily next year to find a way she can make up for that production loss.”