By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The last time Needham High School girls volleyball took to the hardwood was on November 16, 2019 in the state championship game against Winchester. The Rockets capped off a perfect 21-0 season with a 3-1 win over the Sachems to claim the Division I state championship.
Poised to defend their title atop the state's volleyball ranks, the Rockets were forced to wait an extra six months to saddle up after the entire 2020 MIAA girls volleyball season was postponed to the spring of 2021. On March 4, the Rockets finally returned to the court to open up their 2020-2021 season with a home date against rival Walpole. Despite the atmosphere looking a little different with players wearing masks and limited fans in attendance, it business as usual for Walpole and Needham.
Behind five aces by Karen Nie and 24 digs by junior Ellie Streeper, Needham fought their way to a 3-0 victory (25-15, 25-15, 25-14). Nour Alajarma and Meg Allen also each had five aces in the winning effort for the Rockets.
Needham opened the game on a 7-0 run thanks to a pair of aces by Nie. Walpole closed the gap to 7-2 after back-to-back balls were hit into the net by Needham, but the Rockets responded with a 6-1 run to go ahead 13-3. Walpole would rally to pull within six at 16-10 following kills by senior captains Ali Fair and Shannon Jordan, but Needham would respond with four straight points to go ahead by double digits at 20-10. Another ace by Nie and a highlight reel kill by Antonia Thommes allowed Needham to take the set, 25-15.
The second set saw more of the same from Needham as the Rockets started hot and finished with authority. Aces by Allen and Alajarma helped Needham to an 11-4 lead to begin the set. Two aces by Nie brought the lead to 19-9 before Walpole made a run to cut the deficit to 20-15, thanks to a pair of kills by junior Morgan Dority. Needham responded and closed out the set with five consecutive points to take it, 25-15.
Needham killed any hopes of a Walpole comeback attempt early on in the third set, jumping out to a 10-3 lead following back-to-back aces by Allen. The Rockets would cruise to a 25-14 set win and the overall 3-0 victory.
“There’s definitely a big sense of gratitude from our players,” said Needham head coach Courtney Chaloff when asked about her team’s excitement level after returning to the volleyball court. “I think as a team we are just really thankful for the opportunity to play and get a chance to be together again. I thought our energy was awesome and I was really impressed with how we responded throughout the night. We competed for every point. I was also really impressed with our serving. We had several players rack up aces and that really helped us swing a lot of momentum when the ball came back to us.”
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.