This was the first time the varsity volleyball team from Princeton High School defeated West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South in the four-year history of the team. The girls were cheering, spirits were high, and the team was at the top of its game.
The team had been hitting its stride the whole season, putting together a winning record of 11–3 this year and earning its very first trip to states.
Head Coach Patricia Manhart believes this newfound success can be attributed to experience, which plays a major role in the changes between seasons.
“We started four years ago as a big group of about 40 girls,” Manhart said. “For everyone, except for one or two people, this was a brand new sport. So each year, there are new skills to learn, new ideas to introduce, so it just takes time. The seniors now have been playing for four years, and they provide great mentorship.”
The benefits of having experience showed themselves over time. Becoming more comfortable on the court and learning the type of attitude needed to win helped both individual performance and the team.
“[We know that] even if you make mistakes you need to be pumped up,” said Rachel Cheng ’18. “It’s just about every point, making sure you’re cheering your teammates on, picking up anyone who’s feeling down.”
However, two freshmen, outside hitter Kimberley Cheng ’20 and opposite hitter Gillian Hauschild ’20, also enhance the varsity team. Not only do the freshmen start, but they also support the team just as much as any experienced player does.
“They’re super energetic. They’re amazing,” said Co-Captain and opposite defensive specialist Lucia Firbas ’17. “[They’re] so cheerful when they play, [and] they support themselves so well when they’re on the bench. They work so hard, too.”
Another facet of the team’s experience can be attributed to participation in a club team. A club team is an organization that plays throughout the year, such as Princeton Volleyball Club and Central Jersey Volleyball Academy, helping the team stay in shape.
“They are working with the best players from other schools in the area … and they come back next year much stronger than the year prior,” Manhart said. “They get to have all this extra playtime and practice, and they work on their positions and go to tournaments. Club is a big commitment, and I appreciate the girls who do it because they love the sport so much.”
“It helps for practice in the offseason,” Firbas said. “Most of the newer girls can do [club volleyball] during sophomore and freshman year. For the returners, it was still a new concept. Even one year of it helps to get more familiar with tournaments [by] getting in the competitive spirit, [and] practicing more often.”
Before the girls can think about the offseason, however, the team looks to achieve even more progress in the upcoming end-of-season tournaments. On October 22, the team competed in the West Jersey Interscholastic Volleyball League Tournament. Beforehand, Manhart reflected on the team’s performance in this event in the past.
“I shared with the girls that last year, going into our league playoffs, we came in the bottom of our division,” Manhart said. “I think the girls are more than capable of winning the whole thing, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I need the girls to know what they’re capable of.”
The girls won the tournament, defeating both West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South—for the second time—and ending Rancocas Valley High School’s 19-game winning streak.
“We were ecstatic. I remember, at the final point [when] we won. We were just screaming and hugging on the floor,” Cheng said.
The next tournament is the state tournament, where the team has to account for the loss of two starters, Nancy Gray ’17 and Noa Levy ’17.
“We’re doing something different,” Cheng said. “We’re putting our opposite, Gillian Hauschild—she’s going to be playing middle for a while—and Kimberley Cheng—who used to play outside—she’s going to play opposite now. We’re going to have to run through some new plays and change our playing style.”
The team, riding off its win, still hopes to excel in the state tournament this November.
“it’s our first time going to states,” Manhart said. “I would like to see us make it through the second round.”