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By Maddie Gerber
Hometown Weekly Intern
On their road to the state championship this season, the Needham girls volleyball team has amassed quite a following. Throngs of those followers packed into the busy Worcester State University gymnasium last Saturday night expecting a great game. They were not disappointed, as the girls clinched their first-ever Division 1 state title through a series of high-energy games and skillful points against Winchester, a formidable opponent. Although the Winchester and Needham programs were relatively new to the Division 1 championship, which has been dominated by Newton North and Barnstable for the past decade, both teams had impressive undefeated records this season and undoubtedly deserved to be on the court on Saturday night.
The first set started off tightly, as Needham had a slight lead, but was never able to pull forward more than a few points, despite impressive digs by junior Karen Nie (19 kills, 16 digs), who saved Needham a couple of times. The Rockets finally managed to pull ahead later in the set with a score of 20-17, which prompted Winchester to call a timeout. After the break, Needham came back even stronger; a series of consecutive spikes by Nie, senior Olu Ajayi (12 kills, 4 blocks), and junior Lila Carr (14 kills) secured the first set for the Rockets, 25-22.
The second set, however, was a struggle for both teams, as most of the points were scored by error rather than effective plays. Although the set started off competitively from a score perspective, Winchester managed to pull ahead and led for the remainder of the set. In the final few points, Needham’s Nie and senior Kim Lew managed to bridge the five-point deficit between the teams, but were unable to stop Winchester from securing the eventual 25-23 victory.
In the third set, Needham regained its momentum and managed to take back the lead after a series of consecutive spikes by Nie and Ajayi. Due to the Rocket’s impressive efforts, they were able to take the strongest lead of the game thus far at 20-14. However, Winchester managed an impressive comeback and bridged the six-point gap between the teams, leading to a series of nail-biting final points. After a timeout called by Needham, the girls came back and a powerful strike by Nie secured the win, 25-23.
By the fourth set, the Rockets were able to fully display their potential and completely dominated over Winchester. A kill by Carr pulled Needham ahead, where they stayed for the remainder of the game. A block by Ajayi finished the game at 25-16, and the Rockets secured the state title.
The girls attributed much of their victory to a combination of their drive and humility - or as they call it, being “hungry and humble.” Although the season may be over, Coach Courtney Chaloff wants the girls to continue feeding that hunger as they look towards the future. When speaking to the team after the game, Chaloff congratulated them on their victory but also posed a question: “Do you know what would be better?
“Two state titles.”