November 16, 2022

PHS Girls’ Volleyball Falls in Sectional Final, Future Looks Bright with Core of Young Stars

POWER HITTER: Princeton High girls’ volleyball star Naomi Lygas makes a hit in recent action. Last week, freshman star Lygas contributed 13 kills and 10 digs in a losing cause as third-seeded PHS fell 2-1 to top-seeded Colts Neck in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group 3 Central Jersey sectional final. The defeat in the November 8 contest left the Tigers with a final record of 21-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Competing in the program’s first-ever sectional final, the Princeton High girls’ volleyball team got off to a good start as it played at Colt’s Neck.

Third-seeded PHS won the first set 25-17 over the top-seeded Cougars in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group 3 Central Jersey title game on November 8.

“We served tough, we passed well and that allowed us to run a consistent offense,” said PHS head coach Patty Manhart. “We kept them out of system so they really weren’t giving us their best attack coming over.”

Colts Neck, though, went on the attack after that, taking the next two sets, 25-21 and 25-18, to win the match.

“In the second set right away, we fell into a hole on serve receive and when that happens it is tough,” said Manhart. “Even though it happened early in the game, going down eight points, that is just a really big deficit to overcome. Even though we did chip away and get closer, there are certain things that another team picks on. It is hard to make up for it.”

While the defeat stung, getting to the sectional final was a special breakthrough for the players.

“It is exciting, it meant so much to the girls,” said Manhart, whose team finished the fall with a 21-5 record. “We don’t have any titles in the state sectional or playoffs on the banners in our gym. The banner has a league championship and they all badly wanted to add a state sectional to that.”

In assessing the setback, Manhart acknowledged that the Tigers felt the stress of the high stakes contest.

“I don’t know if it was inexperience and the pressure,” said Manhart who got 13 kills and 10 digs from freshman star Naomi Lygas against Colts Neck with senior Sarah Villamil chipping in six kills and 10 digs and sophomore Lois Matsukawa coming up with two kills, seven digs, and 30 assists. “We hadn’t been at that point. It is that newness for us that hurt us. It was definitely a lot of
pressure and maybe it is not being used to playing under that pressure.”

In Manhart’s view, her returning players will benefit from the experience.

“Colts Neck is a good example; they have been here before, they have done it before,” said Manhart. “They have the confidence and the mindset, so I think that is something that we learn from.”

Looking at the season overall which saw PHS win the Burlington County Scholastic League (BCSL) tournament title along the way, Manhart sees the loss to Colts Neck as a catalyst to even more success in the future. 

“I was expecting to have a good group of girls, I had been hearing about the freshman class that was coming in and I knew who wasn’t graduating from last year,” said Manhart.

“I was expecting that strength in our league so I am excited, but that was an expected win. The thing that would have been cool was to win the state playoff, which they were capable of doing. They agreed afterward that Colts Neck was a beatable team, we were evenly matched. The girls are really hungry to build on that in the future.”

The squad’s senior group played a key role in building the team into a powerhouse this fall.

“They just loved the program so much; I think that really helps everyone on the team to just want to come and support each other, to be there for one another and for their team,” said Manhart, whose Class of 2023 includes Rachel Hoffman, Emily Wu, Sophia Tsang, Macaela Wilton, Sarah Bielaus, and Annie Zhao in addition to Villamil.

“Just knowing how positive that group is and they really keep each other up. They give each other feedback, they trust each other,” said Manhart. “In our last practice, I really liked hearing how much the team meant to everybody and how much they liked being with one another. Those are things that make me happy; that overall the girls still have a good experience even though what we ended on.”

With such returning standouts as sophomore Pearl Agel, freshman Kaelin Bobetich, freshman Ashley Chester, and freshman Charlotte Woods in addition to Lygas and Matsukawa, Manhart is very happy about the program’s prospects going forward.

“So many of them are playing club, they are playing beach, and they are working out continually so I just keep imagining what they are going to be like coming back year after year,” said Manhart. “It is just really crazy. They are all such solid players. I am excited to see this group of girls again over the summer because they are all going to be better than they already are. I am trying to wrap my head around what will that even look like. I know they take the sport seriously and they are going to be recruited. They all have a lot of exciting things coming up in their own volleyball careers. It is a lot to look forward to.”