Girls varsity hockey team / Credit: Magda Schmalz

After an exciting fall, the winter sports season is underway with several Needham High teams off to fast starts. The Observer asked the coaches to share their thoughts about what lies ahead. 

Senior Brian Cloonan goes in for a layup / Credit: Patti Cloonan

Hopes are high for the boys basketball team. Last season the Rockets made it to the Division 1 state finals for the first time, and Coach Paul Liner said his team is looking to “rebuild and reload.” So far, so good, with victories in their first three games, including Tuesday’s 63-48 home win over Brookline. Guard Brian Cloonan, last year’s Bay State Conference co-MVP, is back for his senior season. Liner also expects seniors Jackson Shaw and Campbell Keyes to be key contributors. “I love our team chemistry,” said Liner. “Everyone has embraced our ‘We over one’ and ‘Next play’ mentality.”

Girls varsity basketball team / Credit: Joe Leslie

The girls’ basketball team is also undefeated after beating Brookline 36-31 on Tuesday for its third straight win. “We have a very hopeful season ahead of us,” said coach Hannah Carroll, “with many players returning from last year.” Carroll said she’s looking for a strong season from junior guard Noa Brown. She also cited the play of three sophomores: forwards Hannah Levine and Eva Andrews and guard Annie Camozzi. “We have a lot of depth this season, which will be a huge factor,” Carroll said.

Allisyn Furano was last season’s MIAA girls’ ice hockey Coach of the Year, and her team is 2-1-1 after beating Brookline 3-1 Wednesday afternoon. “Senior captains Erin McDonnell, Megan Ledbury and Lily Schmalz provide stellar leadership both on and off the ice,” Furano said. Junior forward Jill Peabody led the team in scoring last season and was a Bay State Conference All-Star. “Looking forward to working with a group of motivated, talented, and committed players,” Furano said.

Boys varsity hockey team Credit: Dan Brownridge

“We have high expectations for our team and program this season,” said boys’ hockey coach Mike Hoban. “With 21 returning players and four key new additions to the team we are poised and ready to make a run.” In a thriller that went to overtime Wednesday night, the Rockets lost 4-3 to Brookline. That left them 1-2 on the season, their only victory coming in the opener against Milton. Seniors Jimmy Kenney, Jake Sieczkowski and Sean Reilly are the captains.

The boys’ swimming and diving team is seeking its third straight Bay State Conference and South Sectional championships “Twelve of the 27 athletes are newcomers this year and are working hard at improving their speed and technique,” said coach Adam Cole. They’ve won their first three meets. The Rockets are captained by seniors Will Robock, Theo Goryanyy and Teo Nai. Junior Vann Hotchkiss is the reigning state champion in diving.

“The season is off to a great start after last week’s victory over Braintree,” said girls’ indoor track coach Chris Van Cott. Seniors Carolina Sanz Arribas, Maryn MacNeil and Mia O’Neill are the captains. “Our team has good strength and depth,” Van Cott said. “Last year we won the Bay State Conference Herget Division title and we’d love to repeat that success.” The Rockets are scheduled for a Thursday afternoon meet vs. Milton.

The boys’ track team also opened with a victory last week over Braintree and faces Milton Thursday afternoon. “I am excited to work with this group of athletes,” said coach Jason Isaacs, “especially our captains (Isaac Doron, Daniel Jordan, Aidan Railton, Sam Villa) and returning athletes, as I know they will serve as great leaders and mentors to our newcomers.”

NHS senior Shohum Sarkar / Credit: Cara Soulia

After losing its opener, coach Robert Pritchett’s wrestling team won its first match of the season Wednesday, 49-30 at Milton. Pritchett said he’s full of optimism about his team. He’s expecting big things from John Marino, Alex Rutley and Jake Firman. “By midseason,” Pritchett said, “we should be taking the next steps toward the sectionals.”

“Needham High School gymnastics is in for an exciting season!” said coach Abby Watt. She said more than a dozen new juniors and sophomores will give the team a new look. Unfortunately, senior captains Olivia Alper and Ruby Gibson are each recovering from broken arms, but Watt told the Observer “it has been encouraging and fun to watch the hard work of the new athletes.” The season begins Jan. 9 at home vs. Braintree.

After finishing second in the pom division in November’s fall state dance tournament, the coed varsity dance team will compete in two categories — pom and jazz — this winter. Coach Jessica Arruda’s team is captained by Alexa Oriel, Sydney Broderick and Amelia Sacher. “It’s been an incredible first season and we are ready to work for a successful winter season,” Arruda said. You can see the team perform at most home basketball games.

Needham High also offers four winter club sports: winter dance, winter cheerleading, fencing and squash. Last week the squash team lost its first match 12-0 to Acton-Boxborough.

Jesse Brandish, a student at Needham High School, contributed to this story.

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