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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
For a long while, soccer has been the crown jewel of Needham High School athletics. In 2015, the Needham girls took home the state championship after a record season (22-0-2).
The Rockets will look to defend their title in 2016 with what coach Carl Tarabelli calls “a good core group” returning, including goalkeeper and captain Liz Vallatini, whose eight total goals against in 2015 was the lowest of all ‘keepers in the Bay State League.
Along with Vallatini holding down the net, the Rockets will be led by their other two captains in midfielder: Crea Baker-Durante and striker/midfielder Claire Burns.
“Crea and Claire both provide us with a little bit everything. They are both fast, skilled, and know the game really well,” said Tarabelli. “We are definitely looking to those two to be the leaders of out midfield this season.”
Along with Burns and Baker-Durante, the Rockets will turn to their underclassmen to fill in the voids at midfield left behind by the class of 2016, specifically freshman Hannah Smith and junior Izzy Barnett.
“We graduated ten seniors last spring,” said Tarabelli. “Of those ten, seven started, so our lineup is definitely going to look pretty different. We’re looking forward to having Hannah and Izzy up their with Crea and we are confident in both of them being able to get the job done.”
Along with Smith and Barnett, Tarabelli also expects big things out of senior midfielder Olivia Greif in 2016.
“Olivia is going to have some big shoes to fill at midfield,” said Tarabelli. “She contributed a lot off the bench last season, so we’re looking forward to seeing what she is able to bring to the table as a starter.”
On the back end, the Rockets will be led by junior Rose Evans, whose efforts a season ago helped make the job of goaltender Liz Vallatini that much easier en route to the team’s undefeated season and state championship.
The Rockets begin their title defense on their home pitch on September 7 against arch-rival Wellesley.