July 10, 2020 – By NJP

Sibana Gonzalez was not your ordinary freshman volleyball player. She came to the West Windsor Plainsboro South Pirates as a seasoned International youth player. Born in Puerto Rico and moving to Chile in 2015, she has gained vast experience at tournaments and expos in her home country and in South America. She participated in US Nationals in 2017 at 13 and has been a GEVA High Performance participant for the last two years.

So how would this experience equate to a first year player at WWPS? Would all of the experience and playing at higher age levels throughout her entire youth career mean she would automatically acclimate to high school success as a freshman? Well… the answer to that question was a resounding YES!

Sibana absolutely excelled in her first year at the high school level. She has just an amazing stroke and swing, putting balls deep and with force. She hits line like no other freshman in the state. And she lead all underclassman in kills except for sophomore Kate Stoughton of Brick Memorial which is just an epic statement of her success and capabilities moving forward. She had over 100 more kills than the next best freshman, Ash Kingsley of Fair Lawn.

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But Sibana is not a one dimensional player. She can play defense and serve/receive as good as anyone. She tallied 158 digs and 31 aces as well. Sibana is not a lone star for WWPS.

The Pirates finished 21-7 last season. They have the entire team returning for 2020. They have earned a #34 ranking in NJP’s pre-season assessment and are the top rated team in the BCSL. Alisa Vukovic is a rising senior outside hitter who tallied 221 kills, 44 aces, and 218 digs last season. Skylar Hendrick is a rising junior opposite hitter that had 147 kills, 22 blocks, 107 digs and 29 aces as a sophomore. Varsha Gollarhalli will be a senior setter quarterbacking the attack who tallied 522 assists in 2019. And Shakthi Sreenivas, who had 230 digs last season, will lead the defense as libero. This is a stacked team that has unlimited potential and numerous weapons.

It should be a fun year for the Pirates. With a dash of diversity and heaps of International flavor, we expect the served up platter to be a fan favorite.

Here is our interview with Ms. Gonzalez…

Tell us a bit about yourself Sibana?

My name is Sibana Gonzalez Acevedo. I am an incoming sophomore at West Windsor Plainsboro High School South in Princeton, NJ. I was the only freshman in the varsity girls volleyball team and a starter player. I will be graduating in 2023. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and lived there for ten years. In 2015, we relocated to Santiago, Chile for three years. My parents, Anabis Acevedo and Felix Gonzalez, and my younger sister Sibianis are my biggest fans. They have always been there to support and root for me in every game no matter what part of the world I play! 

How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?

As a Latina raised in Puerto Rico, volleyball is a favorite sport. My passion for volleyball started at a very young age. I was 6 years old when my gym teacher, who happened to be the school volleyball coach, saw something in me. He gave my parents and I an invitation to take part in volleyball clinics with girls older than me. Since then, I have never stopped playing volleyball. I’ve always played up, which gave me a lot of confidence and also made me work harder to reach my goals. Throughout the years, I have played for several schools and club volleyball teams. Each and every coach has been instrumental in my development. I am extremely thankful for all the cultural experiences of playing and competing in multiple countries. 

What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What’s your favorite position to play?

I am currently 5’9 with a 25-inch vertical. I am an all-around outside hitter for both the varsity high school team and my club team Princeton Volleyball Club (I played on the 16-1 team). Throughout all the years of me playing this amazing sport, I have been mostly an all-around outside hitter, but I’ve also been a middle blocker and a right side hitter. I personally like being an all-around outside hitter because it requires all of the skills in volleyball. When I’m back row, it requires being able to pass, defend, and serve & receive. Moreover, when I’m front row, it requires being able to hit the ball with lots of different set tempos. Playing this position, you have to be able to use all the skills in volleyball which has made me a better player. I keep challenging myself to continue improving my game skills. 

Talk about an impact freshman? You had more kills than any freshman in the state and also led your team in points. What are your personal goals for 2020?

This past school season was amazing! I am very blessed to have had the experience of being the only freshman on the girls varsity volleyball team at WWPHS South (West Windsor Plainsboro High School South) alongside awesome and talented players. I keep challenging myself to improve my vertical, continue to train and contribute to my team’s goals. My personal goals for 2020 are to increase the number of kills to at least 1,000 early in my high school years. In addition, I want to have a great season with my fellow teammates where we win as many games together and reach the finals in the state championship.

Morristown Classic Tournament (WWPHS South got first seed)

WWPS finished 21-7 last season and has the entire squad returning for 2020. How far can this team go? 

This team can go very far. We have worked together well and have learned what we need to do to become stronger and more accomplished players. Our stats of 21-7 have proven this – we can do it! I am confident we can win together as a team and have an awesome season! 

Tell us about your teammates. Who do you expect will be this year’s standout and up and coming players?

We have so many talented players in our team that I will be remiss if I leave someone out. We have a new opportunity as a team to set the bar even higher. We all have an opportunity to accomplish great success as individual players and as a team, for our school and for our state. 

NJP considers you as one of the top players in the state despite being just a freshman. Do you plan on playing in College? (If so, which ones will you look at?) 

I am very fortunate to be named as one of the top players of the state. I just want to say a big thank you to all my coaches who have helped me, supported, provided guidance and coaching. Yes! I plan on playing volleyball in college and I am looking forward to playing Division 1 volleyball. I already started this journey as part of the recruitment process. As an incoming sophomore, I’m looking and considering all my options. The sky’s the limit! 

West Windsor-Plainsboro South Pirates - Princeton Junction, New ...

Tell us about your high school coach?

My high school coach, Coach Daniel Bower is an amazing person. Even though he has only been my coach for one year, he made me feel so welcomed when I first met him at tryouts. He is so full of energy, has a fun personality, and cares about you as a person and as a player. I am so glad I have him as a coach. I can’t forget to mention him wearing his bow ties to each game and bringing his son, DBJ (Daniel Bower Junior) to cheer us at our games. I am beyond grateful and thankful to have him as my high school volleyball coach! 

Coach Bower and I at the All Star Game 2019

Tell us about your Club Coach?

This past season I was playing on the 16-1 team in Princeton Volleyball Club. My coaches were Coach Y (Nancy Yasalonis) and her son Coach Jeff Yasalonis. I have a lot of respect for both of them because they are very determined and have worked very hard to give us the best training and coaching. In our season, we not only focused on volleyball skills, but we also worked on how to keep a positive mindset and the psychological aspect of the game. They have taught us a lot about mental toughness through the hardest times in a game and in life. I am very fortunate to have had them as coaches because even during quarantine, we were training virtually. The first half of the “practice” was developing your attitude and mindset. The second half of the “practice” was having a workout that made us all sweat while having a good time together in a virtual environment. I want to give a special thanks to both Coach Y and Coach Jeff for always supporting and believing in me as well as their commitment with this amazing sport. 

Mizuno Boston Volleyball Festival 2020

Who is your support group?

I am very proud of the wonderful close and extended group that supports me. My parents have always been there for me no matter what and their commitment to excellence is admirable. They always support me and motivate me to give it all on the court and to give more than 100% effort when playing and in life. They have always dedicated their time to take me to practice and tournaments; no matter where the sport has taken me. They have sacrificed a lot, for both me and my sister, which is only one of the many things I admire from both of them. I am also really thankful to have a sister that will be at my games and cheers for me and the team. Having my extended family attend games and tournaments, in and outside of the US, have made me feel very special and loved. 

How are you and your family dealing with the current world situation with COVID-19? Are you expecting a normal Fall high school season schedule?

First time meeting my coach in the CEO (Olympic Training Center) in Santiago Chile 2015

This coronavirus situation has touched our family in a way that has made us realize how important it is to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, and to be conscious of the seriousness of this pandemic. I am very fortunate that both of my parents, my sister, and I were able to adapt to the new norm and finished our school year through virtual learning. During this pandemic, I have been able to attend virtual “practices” with my team from Princeton Volleyball Club. In addition, my volleyball coach from Chile, Argentinian Desiderio Farias, had invited me to attend a virtual tournament with the team I used to play with in Chile, against a team from Colombia. I was able to see my teammates and friends from Chile when connecting virtually; and I was also able to make new friends from the Colombian team. I am very grateful to have had this great experience while having a fun time through these difficult times. For this upcoming high school season, I am looking forward to a normal Fall volleyball season and that everything goes back to a new normal as soon as possible. 

Beach or Hard Court?

For the first time ever, in the spring/summer of 2018, I tried out for the Stars and Stripes Beach Volleyball Club. I made the team and am very thankful to have had John Bracco as my coach. I was able to practice at sand courts and attend many tournaments at the beach. I won a bid to go to the national championships for beach volleyball in Atlantic City 2018. I wasn’t able to attend since after tryouts I was selected for the GEVA High Performance Select team. It was the first difficult decision I had to make at a higher competing national level. I chose to represent the GEVA region at the USA tournament in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I had the privilege to train with amazing coaches from the region: Coach Danielle, Coach Kim, Coach Joe, Coach Terence, and Coach John Titus who really helped me get better as a player. It was an amazing championship competing and experiencing the top teams from the US and the world. I was able to repeat this experience in 2019, I tried out again and this time attended Fort Lauderdale, Florida High Performance Championships with the GEVA High Performance Select team and continued to have great coaches including Coach Cass Patsos, Coach Austin Vogues, and Coach Bailey Johnson. 

Won a bid to nationals 2018 to Atlantic City 

What else would you like us to know about you?

Volleyball is a huge part of my life and a very important one. It is my passion. I consider myself a citizen of the world. I love to travel to new places, meet new people and learn about new cultures. One of my goals is to travel the world playing the sport I love the most. In addition, I enjoy cooking and baking with my sister and simply spending quality time with friends and family!

Coach Jano, my former Assistant Coach from Chile, and I were able to meet at the High Performance Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2019 and he surprised me with a Chilean National Team shirt.

When relocating, my only request for my parents was wherever we move in the world, to ensure I can play volleyball. When we first arrived in Santiago, Chile in 2015, I had gone with my family to the CEO (Centro de Entrenamiento Olímpico = Olympic Training Center) to find a place for me to be able to play volleyball. Fortunately I was put in contact with Desiderio Farias, an Argentenian coach of the CEO in Chile. He Invited me to join tryouts and I was blessed to be playing within the first two weeks of my arrival. Later that month, my coach changed the club name to AVI (Academia de Voleibol Internacional = International Volleyball Academy) as a welcome to me joining the team. I had the opportunity to play tournaments across the country of Chile as well as Argentina. 

1st in National Minor League in Chile

A similar situation happened when relocating to New Jersey where the middle school counselor referred me to reach out to the physical educational director of WWPHS South for volleyball opportunities in the area. Fortunately they put me in contact with the club director and coach, Mike Adams. I was able to join the 14-1 team of Princeton Volleyball Club. I have been very fortunate to have some of the best coaches in Puerto Rico, Chile and the US that have supported me and have been very committed to my development in the sport. So many special coaches have touched my life in so many ways. I can only look forward to brighter opportunities ahead! 

2nd place in National school Championship at Nido de Aguilas, Santiago, Chile with Coach Connie (I was in 7th grade and a starter on the varsity team!)

Have you won any awards such as All Country or All State or others? 

– Only freshman in All Star Game 2019

– WWPHS South Rookie of the Year 2019

– WWPHS South best spike 2019

– GEVA High Performance Select team and attended High Performance Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma 2018

– GEVA High Performance Select White team and attended High Performance Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Florida 2019

1st place in the Estadio Español tournament in Chile

– Won a beach volleyball bid to nationals in Atlantic City 2018

– Won a bid to AAU nationals in Orlando, Florida 2020 (cancelled due to COVID-19)

– Attended Girls Junior National Championship in Detroit, Michigan 2018 with the 14-1s PVC team

– 1st place National Minor League 2015 13’s in Chile (LINAME)

– 1st place National Minor League 2016 15´s in Chile (LINAME)

– 1st place in Copa Union Volley 2017 18’s in Chile 

– 1st place Campeonato Volley Colonial 2015 in Chile 

Appeared in television for raising money for charity with the volleyball team Guaynabo Volleyball Academy in Puerto Rico

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