Before her transfer to Newburyport High for her sophomore year, Sydney Yim sent Clippers coach Lori Solazzo a highlight tape she created.
Solazzo watched and was pleasantly surprised with the play of Yim, who had attended Loudonville Christian, a small, private school in the Albany, N.Y., suburbs with just 18 students in her class.
Newburyport had just finished its first season as a varsity program — winning just one set. Solazzo thought she had found the player around which she would build the team.
“She’s not just interested in volleyball. She can play volleyball,” Solazzo remembers telling herself.
In 2018, Newburyport won the first four matches in program history. The next fall, the Clippers (12-9) qualified for the postseason for the first time. This season, with the Purdue-bound Yim setting the attack, Newburyport (9-2) is two wins away from a Cape Ann League title following the lead of their newly-minted league MVP.
“These past three years, these girls have really been working together and building something together,” Solazzo said.
Yim is a self-admitted late bloomer to volleyball.
She started playing at 13, but she was a natural. In 2018, Newburyport went 4-14, but Yim was named to her first of three Cape Ann League All-Star teams. Her leadership skills and court presence were a big reason why Solazzo believed better things were on the horizon for the Clippers.
“I always say that having a setter in volleyball is like having a pitcher in softball,” said Solazzo, who also coaches Newburyport’s softball team. “It’s hard for a volleyball team to succeed without a setter because they run the offense essentially.”
At 6 feet 1 inch, Yim has an 92-inch standing reach and 113-inch spike touch. She also plays for the SMASH 18s club team under Medway coach Gary Patch.
“She knows how to move on the court,” said Solazzo. “It was just very natural for her. She had great setting hands. You could just tell she had great volleyball intuition and great court knowledge. That’s a learned behavior. That’s very hard to teach and she just intrinsically had that.”
In 2019, the Clippers lost to eventual Division 2 North champion Danvers in the first round of the sectional tournament. A Globe All-Scholastic for her play at setter and outside hitter, she recorded 226 kills, 89 aces, 146 digs, and 116 assists. After the season, the college recruitment process became more intense.
Yim made an unofficial visit to Purdue in October 2018, but also had Army and Minnesota on her list. Never one to stray too far from home, Yim liked the idea of attending West Point in New York; she had no qualms about serving in the Army, but was worried she’d be away from home for too long if she deployed in a far-off location. She signed her letter of intent with Purdue last November.
“I really wanted that family factor in there,” Yim said.
This season, she is the lone setter as the Clippers switched from a 6-2 offense back to a 5-1; her statistics are still balanced and impressive: 174 assists, 96 kills, 66 digs, and 38 aces for a Newburyport squad that has won nine straight.
On Wednesday night, the Clippers host North Reading in the Cape Ann League semifinals. With a win, Newburyport would play the Ipswich-Lynnfield winner on Friday. The Clippers swept Lynnfield on March 31, snapping the Pioneers’ 33-match win streak within the CAL.
Yim credits that win to the immense progress the Clippers have made in such a short timespan.
“It’s super impressive. I’ve never seen a team change so immensely. It’s really cool to know that that sweep against Lynnfield was one of the best wins in the program,” Yim said.
Conference and league tournaments continue Wednesday with semifinal matchups in the Hockomock, Cape & Islands, and Cape Ann leagues.
In the Hockomock, King Philip (10-1) will take on 2019 Division 2 state champion Canton (10-1) in one semifinal and Franklin (10-1) will face Mansfield (6-5) in the other. Franklin defeated Mansfield twice during the regular season and KP has yet to face Canton. Both matches begin at 5:30 p.m.
In the Cape & Islands, Barnstable welcomes in Falmouth and Nauset hosts Dennis-Yarmouth in the Atlantic Division semifinals. Nantucket hosts Sturgis East and St. John Paul II plays at Sturgis West in the Lighthouse Division semifinals. All matches start at 4 p.m.
Defending Division 3 North champion Ipswich matches up against defending Cape Ann League champion Lynnfield at 5:30 p.m. in one semifinal, while North Reading and Newburyport will play in the other at 5 p.m.