WELLESLEY — Courtney Chaloff has a motto for the team she coaches.
“Never doubt Needham volleyball,” setter Daly Johnson said.
The Rockets did not doubt themselves in Saturday night’s Division 1 Central/West final. And for a school whose boys’ volleyball program is never traditionally doubted, the 2019 iteration of the girls’ program rallied from an 0-2 deficit to defeat second-seeded Hopkinton, 21-25, 19-25, 25-19, 25-22, 15-8, to win its first sectional title.
The top-seeded Rockets (19-0) will play South champion Boston Latin in the state semifinals Wednesday at Newton South.
“I don’t want to cry, but I can’t really, because I’m so excited,” said junior Sarah Jensen, who hit the clinching kill in the fifth set.
Needham’s tenacity forced Hopkinton (20-1) to commit eight errors in the final set and the Rockets jumped out to an 8-2 lead when the teams switched sides.
“I think it took us a little while to get into our groove, but we got there,” Chaloff said.
Hopkinton, which won the Central/West title two years ago, played surgically precise volleyball in the first two sets, making just 13 errors with an offense paced by middle hitters Kate Powers and Ashley McDermott.
An 8-0 Needham run in the third set which started when the Rockets trailed, 12-10, put them back in contention. Junior outside hitter Karen Nie (27 kills, 3 aces, 12 digs) took over in the third set, tallying eight kills and two aces to help keep Needham’s season going. Senior Olu Ajayi hit the third-set winning kill to make it 2-1.
“I just took all of my teammates’ energy,” Ajayi said. “Took it all in and said ‘I’m going to do this.’”
Hopkinton again jumped out to an early lead in the fourth set and it wasn’t erased until 14-13 on a Needham block. Ajayi and Lila Carr became more involved in the Needham offense, but with the score tied, 21-21, the Rockets tied the match by going on a 4-1 run featuring three Nie kills.
“Definitely knowing who’s hot and who’s effective in your matchups was a big thing,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t go right side for the first two sets because [Hopkinton’s blockers] were camped out on the right side so I had to switch it up.”