October 5, 2022

Freshman Lygas Making an Immediate Impact As PHS Girls’ Volleyball Gets Off to 10-0 Start

IMMEDIATE IMPACT: Princeton High girls’ volleyball player Naomi Lygas leaps up for the ball in recent action. Freshman outside hitter Lygas has made an immediate impact for PHS as she has 75 kills, tied for team best with senior Sarah Villamil. PHS, which defeated WW/P-North 2-0 (25-11, 25-9) last Monday to improve to 10–0, hosts Northern Burlington on October 6 and Paul VI on October 8 before playing at Lawrenceville on October 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As a grade schooler, Naomi Lygas focused her energy on excelling in gymnastics.

But hitting a plateau, Lygas decided to go in another direction athletically.

“I was doing gymnastics for a while, I was pretty good, but I wasn’t very flexible,” said Lygas. “We were looking for something new to try so I tried volleyball.”

It didn’t take long for Lygas to feel at home in her new sport. “I started when I was 11,” said Lygas. “It was instant; I felt like my natural talent was there.”

Utilizing that natural talent, Lygas has emerged as a star this fall in her freshman season for the Princeton High girls’ volleyball team.

Last Wednesday, outside hitter Lygas had a team-high 11 kills to help PHS defeat Hopewell Valley 2-0 (25-21, 25-12).

“We didn’t start out as strong as we normally do,” said Lygas. “We didn’t start out fast, but we ended up finishing strong and that is all that matters.”

With PHS locked into a tight battle in the first set against HoVal, Lygas helped the Tigers pull it out with her strong play at the net. Building on that, PHS got into a rhythm as it produced a strong second set.

“I would like to say that my court vision is pretty good from experience,” said Lygas. “In the second set, we minimized our own errors, which is really what got us in the first set.”

Despite being a freshman, Lygas already has a lot of volleyball experience under her belt.

“I play for the Princeton Volleyball Club and Stars and Stripes Beach Volleyball,” said Lygas. “They are both year-round, so even in the winter I play in an indoor sand facility.”

Coming into the fall, Lygas was fired up to join a third team as she has made her debut for the PHS squad.

“It is exciting, my whole volleyball career, I was looking forward to doing it,” said Lygas. “I want to be a leader, but I don’t have a problem listening to other people. I feel like working as a team is the most important part.”

Lygas is contributing a lot to the team, pounding out 75 kills so far this season, tied for team best with senior Sarah Villamil.

“I would say I bring well rounded play,” said Lygas. “Even if I am not on the front row, I am working hard on the back row, just trying to be the best I can wherever I am.”

With fellow freshmen Kaelin Bobetich, Ashley Chester, and Charlotte Woods also on the PHS squad, the quartet have developed a bond.

“All four of us are on the same indoor club team, we all play for the Princeton Volleyball Club,” said Lygas. “I am excited, it is going to be a good season.”

PHS head coach Patty Manhart was excited about the way her team took control of the HoVal match after a shaky start.

“I think the motivation was having such a tight first set, the girls figured out the mistakes we were making,” said Manhart. “They knew that it is on our side and they were able to play like they normally play. At the Cherokee tournament (on September 24) when we were playing really tough teams, the girls really turned it in. It is exciting to see them play at that level. They just need to find that motivation to do it from the get-go.”

Manhart likes having Lygas on her side. “It is so nice to have that player who you can rely on so if you are in a slump or you need that fire, you have the person you can go to who can figure it out and rack up those points,” said Manhart.

Bobetich and the other freshmen have made a nice start as well.

“Kaelin is great; she does so much with blocking, and she works really well with Lois [Matsukawa],” said Manhart. “It is great to see their sets connecting after working together for the first couple of games. She is really producing. We have these four freshmen for four more years.”

Senior star and captain Villamil has brought a great mentality to the team.

“Sarah is a really nice, positive person, the girls look up to her,” said Manhart, whose team defeated WW/P-North 2-0 (25-11, 25-9) last Monday to improve to 10–0. “She has got a great mindset; she is able to pick up her teammates. That social, emotional, whole player mentorship is there. I can trust her 100 percent to pass on our team values, our culture, and keep that going.”

Another key player for PHS in its 10-0 start has been sophomore Lois Matsukawa, who leads the team in assists (166) and service aces (32).

“Lois is great, last year she was our starting center at different points throughout the season and then we finished with her as a starter,” said Manhart. “She knew what her role was coming in this sophomore year and she was ready for it. She is another person who is like glue on this team. She is so reliable. She is able to work with her teammates, she knows every hitter’s little tendencies, and she is able to connect with them. It is assist numbers and ace numbers, she is a great server. She is just a great all-around player.”

At libero, sophomore Pearl Agel has emerged as a reliable performer.

“The libero has to be the No. 1 passer and Pearl has been really consistent,” said Manhart. “I love to see her receiving and passing really well. She is super-fast on defense. She is another important part of the team. We get excited when we are hitting and blocking but with that back row, what we are doing with passing is just as important.”

With PHS hosting Northern Burlington on October 6 and Paul VI on October 8 before playing at Lawrenceville on October 10, Manhart is hoping the Tigers can keep rolling.

“We had South in the very first game and they took us to three sets,” said Manhart. “It was a lot of figuring out the rotation, getting used to who you are next to, being able to work together because everyone was so new and so young. It was a new starting row. It was nice that we were able to start strong. We are now seeing teams for the second time around, so they need that reminder that beating teams the first time doesn’t matter. They still have to come out hard. I am excited about our start — I would love to see that keep going.”

Lygas, for her part, believes that the win over HoVal, the second over the Bulldogs for PHS this season, is harbinger of things to come.

“I am really happy and glad that we have come this far, but I don’t want it to end,” said Lygas.

“We have to just keep working hard and keep a strong mentality and not let up, even if we start repeating games that we have already played. We worked through it today.”