November 2, 2022

With Senior Villamil Providing Skill, Positive Mindset, PHS Girls’ Volleyball Wins BCSL, Advances in States

JUMPING FOR JOY: Princeton High girls’ volleyball player Sarah Villamil jumps for joy to celebrate a win earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star Villamil contributed seven kills to help third-seeded PHS defeat 14th-seeded Lakewood 2-0 (25-12, 25-9) in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association(NJSIAA) Group 3 Central Jersey sectional. PHS, who improved to 19-4 with the victory, was slated to host sixth-seeded Woodbridge in the sectional quarterfinal on November 1 with the winner advancing to the semis on November 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Heading north to Princeton last year from Miami, Sarah Villamil was looking to broaden her horizons.

“I love going to new places and meeting new people,” said Villamil. “That is such a crazy opportunity. This move allowed me to experience new things that would not have been possible if I had stayed.”

Last week, senior star Villamil enjoyed some special experiences for the Princeton High girls’ volleyball team.

On October 25, Villamil helped PHS roll to the Burlington County Scholastic League (BCSL) tournament title as the Tigers topped Sterling 2-0 (25-5, 25-14) in the semis and then defeated Notre Dame 2-0 (25-21, 25-19) in the championship game.

A day later, Villamil and her classmates were honored as the program held a special Senior Night Lights ceremony when it hosted Lenape in the regular season finale.

Last Saturday, Villamil contributed seven kills as third-seeded PHS defeated 14th-seeded Lakewood 2-0 (25-12, 25-9) in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group 3 Central Jersey sectional and improved to 19-4. The Tigers were slated to host sixth-seeded Woodbridge in the sectional quarterfinal on November 1 with the victor advancing to the semis on November 4.

For Villamil, winning the BCSL title was a highlight of her volleyball career.

“That was so amazing,” said Villamil. “It really means something, having been in the sport so long to finally get rewarded at something you have worked so hard. It is like the cherry at top.”

With PHS winning each match in straight sets in the tournament, Villamil believed that the squad produced some of its best work of the season.

“Our communication was very high, we were putting out our best skill,” said Villamil. “We can always be better, but I do think it was some our cleanest sets. For the program, it is great to be recognized for all of the hard work we have put in all season and to have something that shows the hard work was worth it. It is really rewarding, it is such a good feeling.”

The program’s Senior Night proved to be another rewarding moment for Villamil.

“It was this last walk, thinking about when I started playing volleyball in seventh grade in middle school,” said Villamil. “It is a recognition of the love I have for the sport. I am just happy to have a legacy.”

Even though PHS fell to Lenape 2-0 (25-20, 25-15), Villamil had a great time taking the court with her classmates, Rachel Hoffman, Emily Wu, Sophia Tsang, Macaela Wilton, Sarah Bielaus, and Annie Zhao.

“Personally I had so much fun playing this game, I was having the time of my life,” said Villamil. “We are going into states. It is not going to be how we have been playing all season. We are going to have to play games where we are down. We have to learn how to have good energy, keep it up and get it done.”

The experience of winning the BCSL championship helped Princeton get off to a good start in the state tournament.

“It is making sure we are maintaining our energy and communication at our highest level,” said Villamil. “Winning the title this week shows us how to play in the playoffs and what we can improve on. Now we know how to play with higher stakes.”

PHS head coach Patty Manhart liked the way her players came through in the BCSL competition.

“It was so great to get the tournament back — they took a two-year hiatus during COVID,” said Manhart. “I was telling the girls, ‘two years ago, the last time the tournament ran, we won. So this is a chance to defend the title.’ It meant a lot to the girls. They have been wanting to add some hardware to the trophy case.”

In winning that trophy, PHS took care of business. “It helps having played the teams two times before in the regular season,” said Manhart. “The girls play club with the girls from Notre Dame. They  know them, they know their tendencies. They knew what to expect so they knew how to get the job done, and we were confident that they could do it.”

Manhart credits that team’s seniors with helping to keep the Tigers on a winning track.

“They are the most reliable, positive, uplifting group,” said Manhart. “They are just such a strong group of people. I know they are always going to bring their A-game, work hard, and make everyone around them better. Losing that group of girls that led the program so much and developed since a strong culture will be hard. But we have got a young group coming up and they have learned a lot of good lessons from them. They are great role models.”

Villamil has emerged as one of the best role models in the class. “In this sport, it is all about momentum and it is all about energy,” said Manhart. “You need that person on the court who can keep your team up and Sarah V.  has always been that person for us. She gives her whole heart and soul to everything she does. She is a Renaissance woman, she does it all.”

Winning the BCSL gives PHS momentum heading into states.

“It is a boost of confidence, especially when there are a lot of younger girls on varsity,” said Manhart. “We have been working all year for this high stakes match and it was let’s see how you do and they did great. I am confident they can play at the same level  and continue to elevate. That was exciting to see to see in the BCSL championship.”

Manhart believes that the Tigers will reach a higher level as it goes for a sectional crown.

“We haven’t seen those teams in the regular season, and we will be working to see what they have and figure out their tendencies to get ready,” said Manhart. “At the end of the day, we play our game. We do what we do but knowing what to expect is definitely going to help us.”

Villamil, for her part, is ready to play her game to the end.

“For me, it is leave it all on the court and go out with a bang and have fun doing it,” said Villamil. “What else are you going to do?”