November 9, 2022

Raising the Level of its Play in State Tournament, PHS Girls’ Volleyball Advances to Sectional Final

SERVING UP A WINNER: Princeton High girls’ volleyball player Lois Matsukawa hits a serve in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore star Matsukawa had 16 assists and two digs to help third-seeded PHS defeat seventh-seeded Jackson Memorial 2-0 (25-9, 25-22) in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group 3 Central Jersey sectional semifinals. The Tigers, who improved to 21-4 with the victory, were slated to play at top-seeded Colts Neck in the sectional final on November 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As the Princeton High girls’ volleyball team headed into the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group 3 Central Jersey sectional tournament, Patty Manhart was confident that her squad could raise the level of its play.

“Our season is always progressive,” said PHS head coach Manhart. “There is always a certain foundation, no matter what age the girls are coming in. You are going to continually progress.”

The third-seeded Tigers have progressed through the bracket with aplomb, topping 14th-seeded Lakewood 2-0 (25-12, 25-9) in the first round, defeating sixth-seeded Woodbridge 2-0 (25-14, 25-10) in the quarterfinals and then dispatching of seventh-seeded Jackson Memorial 2-0 (25-9, 25-22) in the semis.

PHS, who improved to 21-4 with the win over Jackson Memorial, was slated to play at top-seeded Colts Neck in the sectional final on November 8.

In the match against Lakewood, the Tigers were able to fine-tune their game.

“There are still certain things I want to see on our side of the net,” said Manhart. “Against Lakewood, you couldn’t tip because they didn’t block, so we had to be swinging. In that way, this was making us run a fast, aggressive attack which meant we have to pass well. It was still a style of play that is good to practice. Either way you are still happy with what you do on your side.”

Against Woodbridge, PHS displayed some more good things.

“The girls were confident, just being a higher seed going in,” said Manhart. “Woodbridge had one or two key players that we had scouted and were ready for. I think the girls just trusted themselves and their play. We are reaching that point in the season where we have figured it out. It is nice to see the girls rolling and playing well.”

In the sectional semifinal matchup with Jackson Memorial, senior Sarah Villamil and freshman Naomi Lygas dominated at the net for the Tigers with seven and nine kills respectively, while sophomore Lois Matsukawa was a catalyst with 16 assists and two digs.

“They were so excited to be on their home court on our home side and that really showed, they came out strong,” said Manhart. “Jackson made a comeback on set two, we couldn’t take the brakes off there. The girls had to work on defense, it showed us what can happen when our serve drops off. We had six missed serves in the second half. It was a very different set from the first which is a reminder to the girls of not taking anything for granted and make sure they play hard from start to finish.”

Villamil and Lygas have been playing hard for the Tigers throughout the fall.

“We will rely on our outsides to score most of our points on the attack,” said Manhart. “We have been mixing it up more, but knowing that they are on and consistent is definitely going to help us moving forward.”

The all-around play of Matsukawa has been a big help for PHS.

“On Saturday when we went into practice, I had to just remind her of how great of a job she is doing and how well she has been playing all season,” said Manhart. “I don’t think I had to say anything to her on Friday. I remember giving feedback to multiple players, making sure they were doing different things. I didn’t give Lois any feedback. She was doing so well, she was in the zone, and she was calling the plays. I just wanted to make sure on Saturday that she knew that she is appreciated.”

Manhart appreciates how well her squad has been playing down the homestretch of the season.

“I think things are just smoother so they do things more consistently, whether it is serve, receive, running faster attacks,” said Manhart. “We started working in some combo plays too, which I hope will add just that little bit of oomph going into the deeper part of the postseason. It is good.”

The Tigers were facing a very good team in the sectional final in Colts Neck, which brought a 21-5 record into the contest.

“They are a good passing team so we have really got to work to tire them out; they have a good outside hitter so she is going to match up pretty evenly with us,” said Manhart. “The girls know that they are an evenly matched team higher seed or not, just looking at their record and who they have played and who we have played. It should be a really exciting, tough game. We are going to elevate and rise; it will be really exciting to play a great, challenging tough team.”

In Manhart’s view, her team’s mix of veterans and precocious young players has given it a special toughness.
“Yes we have our seniors but we have a lot of young players,” said Manhart. “They understand what is expected of them at the varsity level and they are not intimidated by the level of play. That is great.”