November 3, 2021

Avenging Regular Season Defeat to Montgomery, PHS Girls’ Volleyball Tops Cougars in State Opener

SETTING UP: Princeton High girls’ volleyball player Lois Matsukawa hits the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, freshman Matsukawa starred as fifth-seeded PHS defeated 12th-seeded Montgomery 2-0 (27-25, 25-18) in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional. Matsukawa contributed four digs, 14 assists, and 11 service points in the win. The Tigers, now 15-6, play at fourth-seeded Brick Memorial in the sectional quarterfinals on November 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Princeton High girls’ volleyball team, hosting Montgomery last Friday in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional was a chance for atonement.

In mid-October, PHS suffered a disappointing defeat to their neighbors from Somerset County, falling 2-0 (25-19, 25-19).

“The day before at practice, we were talking that this was a redemption match,” said Tiger head coach Patty Manhart.

“We were missing a starter the first time we played them. I made some rotation changes to fill in for that spot that didn’t work out.”

In the match on Friday, things weren’t working out for fifth-seeded PHS in the early stages as it faced an eight-point deficit midway through the first set against the 12th-seeded Cougars. The Tigers, though, got rolling and won the set 27-25 and then took the second set 25-18 to win the match. PHS improved to 15-6 with the win, and play at fourth-seeded Brick Memorial in the sectional quarterfinals on November 3.

“The swing that let us down was serve receive, just not being able to get out of one rotation against a tough server from Montgomery,” said Manhart.

“We were able to flip the tide and go on a service run on our own. Lois Mastukawa, our freshman setter, did a great job and that whole momentum going into the second game was helpful for us. You could tell Montgomery was taken out of it after they lost such a big lead. We were able to capitalize on that in set two.”

Manhart was happy with the overall effort from her squad in the victory.

“I felt like we matched up with Montgomery pretty well on offense and defense,” said Manhart.

“I was happy with how the girls were passing. I was just looking at the stats and the fact that they were able to keep Georgia Weiss to three kills was amazing. That is what we were getting ready for, knowing that she made such a big difference when we lost to them.”

Matsukawa certainly made a difference for PHS against the Cougars, tallying four digs, 14 assists, and 11 service points.

“Lois is such a focused player, the pressure is tough as a freshman but I have tried to communicate to her something that she does so well is her upbeat energy, nothing shakes her,” said Manhart.

“The team trusts her and so when we were down by that many points, she just kept on grinding. She didn’t let it get to her, she stayed positive. She was a big help in getting that swing back and winning that first set 27-25. She is a great spot server too so we were able to use that to our advantage. She is very smart about where she was serving.”

The one-two punch of junior Sarah Villamil and senior Ayo Ince also gave PHS an advantage, with Villamil contributing nine kills and three digs in the victory and Ince chipping in six kills and one dig.

“Sarah’s energy is great, she is not afraid to swing,” said Manhart.

“A lot of girls, if you are down or you are in a tight situation, you start to play a little bit safe, give them easy stuff. But Sarah is not afraid to keep swinging, she keeps going hard, no matter the tempo of the game and that makes a big difference. And then having Ayo in, the two of them together can balance out the attack. Neither one of them has to feel the pressure of being the only person that can score because they are both great outside. So taking turns in the front row and then it is that nice balance where it doesn’t get to be too much for one person. It is a really nice team effort.”

Starting the state tournament with the redemption against Montgomery felt nice for the Tigers.

“They were pumped, it felt a little bit different because Montgomery is someone we play during the season,” said Manhart.

“It felt like a second chance for regular season rematch even though this was the first round of states. So I think this next game against Brick is going to feel different because it is a team we know nothing about and that we don’t see during the regular season.”

In Manhart’s view, the style of play employed by the Cougars should help her squad in the matchup against Brick.

“Looking at Brick’s statistics, it seems like they are a similar team to Montgomery,” said Manhart.

“They have one big outside hitter who contributes a lot to the team. So the fact that we were practicing for that against Montgomery and we are going to expect that again against Brick, hopefully having that experience in round one helps us in round two.”

With the Tigers reeling off three straight wins after going through a lull in mid-October when they had three consecutive losses as Manhart experimented with her rotation, they are poised for a big run in states.

“We are back to where we were during our stronger streak now,” said Manhart.

“I think the girls recognize that too and feel good about the change back to where we were before. We want to continue to keep going — playing in November is what we always look forward to. It has arrived and we would love to keep the season extended.”