November 13, 2019

With Senior Dobler Stepping Into Libero Role, PHS Girls’ Volleyball Makes 2nd Round of States

SERVE AND PROTECT: Princeton High girls’ volleyball player Emily Dobler blasts a serve in a match last season. Last Thursday, senior libero Dobler contributed 10 digs and nine service points in a losing cause as seventh-seeded PHS fell 2-1 to 10th-seeded East Brunswick in the second round of the state Group 4 tournament. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 19-8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Coming into the fall, the Princeton High girls’ volleyball team was looking for someone to fill the critical libero role.

“The libero serves as a defensive specialist and playmaker, wearing a different color jersey than her teammates to signify her unique responsibilities.

While PHS senior Emily Dobler had never played that position before, she reluctantly agreed to give it a shot.

“This is my first year paying libero, I used to be a hitter on the front row,” said Dobler.

“I wasn’t that excited about it at the beginning of the year, but it is really fun to work on getting the passes there and getting them up. I am improving on that because I never thought of myself as a passer.”

Last Thursday, Dobler displayed her improvement, coming up with 10 digs and nine service points in a losing cause as seventh-seeded PHS fell 2-1 to 10th-seeded East Brunswick in the second round of the state Group 4 tournament.

Dobler’s play helped the Tigers rally to force a third set, but East Brunswick responded to pull out a 25-22, 18-25, 25-18 win.

“I think that we just needed to stay positive,” said Dobler. “The mental game is the most important part of the game, so if you get down it completely influences how you play.”

In the second set, Dobler’s serving sparked PHS to a 5-1 lead as it started the comeback.

“Going on runs really boosts your mentally,” added Dobler. “It just helps you soar.”

In the end, it was East Brunswick who soared to the win as they held off the Tigers.

“I think they were better at staying positive throughout; even if they got down on our serve runs, they still stayed positive,” said Dobler.

While the defeat was disappointing, Dobler saw plenty of positives this fall as PHS went 19-8 and won the BCSL (Burlington County Scholastic League) tournament.

“We did really well this season,” said Dobler. “I think our team dynamic was really good, everyone is super close on the team.”

PHS head coach Patty Manhart liked the way her team adjusted after losing the first set to East Brunswick.

“It was more about changing our rotation, we got stuck in a weak rotation with a strong server,” said Manhart.

“We made a change so we would not be in that rotation. It made a difference in the second set but it wasn’t enough in the third. We went into this game confident and prepared, but momentum is in the moment so you can never say.”

Manhart believed that her veteran squad was prepared to make a deeper run in the state tournament.

“This was a year that our seniors wanted to go further in states than we have ever gone before,” said Manhart.

“That was one goal that is unticked, so that kind of clouds things. Getting the league championship again was good; we are going to hold onto that and the memories.”

Coaching her senior group is leaving Manhart with some special memories.

“I am sad that I am losing them, they have contributed so much,” said Manhart of her Class of 2020 which includes Gwen Matsukawa, Raina Williamson, Cosette Hansen, Kim Cheng, Nina Bergman, Gillian Hauschild, Anna Birge, and Winnie Naggar in addition to Dobler.

“Four years ago was the start of our streak of being a good team, so they have been here for that. They are a very special group.”

Colgate University-bound star and co-captain Hauschild has been a special player for the program.

“Gillian has given us everything,” said Manhart. “She gives it her all. She helps her teammates during games to figure it out. People can trust her to get the job done. She is that rock. When you have her in the front row, that is nice.”

Manhart credited Dobler with thriving in her new job. “Emily is such an athletic, quick kid so that position is really made for her,” said Manhart.

“She is so aggressive and her serving is great. After we graduated Natalia [Drobnjak] last year, there was a question mark in preseason as to who would fill that spot, so it was nice having her in that position.”

Having built PHS from a club team into a formidable varsity program, Manhart is looking for the sport to have an even greater presence on the local scene.

“The foundation is there but I want feeder programs,” said Manhart. “I want a freshman team, I want a middle school team, I want rec programs. If you look at teams like North Hunterdon,  those girls are playing at a very early age. I would love to get more of a foundation than we already have.”

Dobler, who took up the sport in her freshman year and played two seasons on JV before moving up to varsity, loved her PHS volleyball experience.

“We are all really close friends in school so that really helps with the dynamics and everything on the court,” said Dobler.

“We have such a close bond and Coach Manhart is so great. She is just a really good coach and we are always there for each other.”