By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
The Princeton High girls volleyball team came into this season thinking this one could be the best in their short history as a program.
It took just seven matches to make that happen.
With a 25-11, 25-8 win over Florence on Wednesday, the Little Tigers improved to 5-2 on the season. The five wins surpasses the four the team had last year. Now in just its fourth season as a program, Princeton has established itself as a team on a par with far more experienced programs.
“I am very excited with how the girls have been doing,” Princeton coach Patty Manhart said. “I have been lucky with the girls coming in. We have two freshmen starting on varsity and they have played two years of club. They help fill out our starting six.”
Since starting the program four years ago, Princeton has made strides each year and came into this season poised to have its best season to date. The team has been impressive and come a long way since those early days as a program.
“Our first year, if we are able to return the ball over the net that was like the Super Bowl for us,” Manhart recalled.
But since that first year the program has grown. Players in the program are more experienced and those entering the program come to the court with plenty of experience.
“The first year during pre-season we had to teach people how to play,” recalled senior Noa Levy, who plays middle blocker for the Little Tigers. “Our second year was better and then last year was a lot better. People played club this year and that is such a big change.
“A lot of people have started to do club which helped us. My first year there was no one who had played club. But then me and two or three others started and now more and more of the girls are playing club.”
That experience has certainly helped. The Little Tigers have wins already this season against some more established programs and hope to continue getting better as the season progresses.
“A lot of my girls who were returning were playing in the off-season and were dedicated to having a good varsity squad,” Manhart said. “One of the freshmen who came in is a little sister so we knew about her. And we had heard about the other freshman.
“So we knew we would be adding some new players with experience. It has helped us to set the tone and raise expectations.”
Freshman Kim Cheng has an older sister, Rachel, who is already a key part of the team. And freshman Gillian Hauschild has come in and added depth to a group of experienced players that includes Anna Cao, Levy, Amanda Rubin, Natalia Drobnjak, Siyang Liu, Nancy Gray, Alexandra Colon and Sara Vigiano.
“It is cool to see the transition and how we have come such a long way,” Levy said. “It has been a different experience for me than most sports because when I started we were all new to the sport. Even Ms. Manhart was new to our school. She had to figure out how to help us and we had to learn the sport.
“It’s different now because we think about winning. It used to be just try your best. Now winning is our goal.”
And the Little Tigers have done that this year better than they ever have before. They are competitive with the teams in the West Jersey Volleyball League and continue to improve each time on the court.
“When we are playing some teams, like Rancocas Valley we take ourselves out of it,” Manhart said. “We’re still building confidence. We’re not always used to the mental toughness that we need. But we keep getting better.
“Noa Levy is really productive as a middle blocker. Anna Cao was on the all-star team last year and is really reliable.”
Levy will be going to Lehigh University next year where she will be a member of the track and field program. But she’ll still look to play volleyball when she can. It’s a sport she has grown to really enjoy after being introduced to it in high school.
“I have always been tall so everyone said I should play volleyball,” Levy said. “I watched some and thought it was cool. I did a little clinic and then I really wanted to play. My mom thought it would be a good sport for me and really encouraged me to play.”
And she is happy to have been a part of laying the foundation for the Princeton High program.
“I am very impressed with what we have done,” Levy said. “Almost all the younger girls have done club and it is cool to watch them. They hit really hard. We are already ahead of our total wins from last year. It’s been a lot of fun.”
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor