Samantha Tam and Isobel Streeper have been linked as teammates on the volleyball court for five years, starting with their play for the SMASH 12U club program.
Now, as juniors at Needham High, they will be at the forefront for a Rocket squad that reigns as the two-time defending Division 1 champion.
The two have been companions at every step of their shared volleyball journey — building an on-court chemistry and inseparable bond along the way.
“Playing together for so many years, it’s a lot easier to have that kind of connection,” Tam said. “We can just look at each other and make decisions on the court without asking coach.”
The class of 2022 — which saw nine seniors graduate — left an imposing legacy within the program, with their 70-5 record and two state titles. The two captains are eager for the challenge to fill their shoes.
“We’re inheriting this huge responsibility from the past class,” Streeper said. “I’m really excited to be playing a bigger role, leading the defense and having that confidence to lead other players in the back row.”
The recent graduates served as role models for the two juniors; their development as players, as well as individuals, has made on impression on Needham coach Courtney Chaloff.
“They were the babies of the team last year, and now they’re stepping into a more prominent leadership role,” Chaloff said. “They’re forces on the court and it’s been exciting to see their growth on and off the court.”
Tam was the only sophomore on the Globe’s All-Scholastic team last fall, collecting 265 kills and 65 aces at outside hitter. She said that she is not phased by her new leadership role.
“We’ve seen all these senior classes come and go,” Tam said. “It wasn’t a super huge change, because we’ve always had to share that responsibility. But now we’re in front of it, so we do have to have a little bit more.”
The 5-foot-5-inch Streeper is moving from a defensive specialist into the libero role played a year ago by her older sister, Ellie, a 2021 Globe Athlete of the Year who is now a freshman defensive specialist at Swarthmore College.
“When we had tryouts, I said, ‘That libero uniform is yours. You’re stepping into that role,’ ” Chaloff said she told Isobel. “I can tell she’s really fired up.”
Losing Ellie is not only a burden for Needham on the court, but it has left an empty room in the Streeper household.
“I’ve watched her here since she was a freshman to then leaving last year,” Isobel said of her older sister. “I have been definitely mentally preparing for not having her be my teammate, but also not having her at home.”
Streeper has already started to make suggestions on restructuring the team’s defense less than two weeks into the season.
“[Isobel] shared some of her ideas with me about our defensive systems,” Chaloff said. “I love that. She’s one of those players who just really takes a lot of initiative.”
During the offseason, Tam and Streeperplayed for SMASH 16, where they have competed in out-of-state tournaments like the New England Winterfest in Hartford and the Big South in Atlanta.
To put a bow on their club season, they put their skills to the test at AAU Nationals in Orlando, Fla.
“Our goal is to play in more out-of-region tournaments, especially in the South,” said Tam, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter who had a sensational sophomore campaign at Needham with 265 kills and 65 aces. “In the South, volleyball is super huge and everyone practices all year round, but our goal is always just to improve and stick together as a team.”
Although Tam and Streeper got their start after the team’s championship in 2019, the quest for the program’s third consecutive title starts Thursday against Bay State Conference rival Braintree.
“The beginning is going to be a little bit messy,” Tam said. “There’s going to be some mistakes, but I am hopeful for the rest of the season.”
▪ Tom Turco is entering his 35th season as coach at Barnstable, and his run is more than impressive, with a dazzling career record of 723-74. But it was not all smooth sailing; after a 5-11 finish in his first season, Turco wanted out, but was persuaded to stay by the athletic director at the time..
During Turco’s tenure, the Red Hawks have won 18 Division 1 titles. The program has been built for longevity with the growth and cultivation of a feeder system..
“All I wanted to do was win one championship,” Turco said.
▪ Lynnfield senior outside hitter Ella Gizmunt is the lone returning 2021 Globe Athlete of the Year. Barring injury, she is on pace to score her 1,000th career kill. And with departure of just one graduating senior, the Pioneers are primed for a run at a state championship.
“Just watching the team in our scrimmage against Austin [Prep] gave me goosebumps,” said Lynnfield coach Brent Ashley. “This team has such a chemistry on the court that it excites me as a coach to maximize their synergy.”
▪ Newton North and its players set their goals on the very first day of practice to go hard every game and compete for the Division I state championship. The secret? Cohesion and stability.
“We’re a really young group,” said second-year coach Nile Fox, who guided the Tigers to the state final against Bay State Conference rival Needham last fall.
“We are going to need to click on the court and find a way to get consistent results in every match.”
Correspondent Sarah Barber contributed to this story.