It all started in Meya Ngundam's backyard.
Playing on a volleyball net strung between the fence and the patio at her home in Bowie, Ngundam and her three sisters spent much of their teenaged summers playing two-on-two volleyball.
The backyard is a special place for all of them, with the most important piece being the net, which hasn't come down the past four years despite hurricanes and blizzards threatening its occupancy.
“The net, it's kind of like our baby,” said Ngundam, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School and The Gazette's Prince George's County Player of the Year. “We work on it all the time.”
In her senior season, Ngundam had her best year while helping the Raiders to the 4A state semifinals.
Deciding to attend Roosevelt was Ngundam's first big move.
Her older sisters, Yaje and Siri, both went to Bowie, where they had successful volleyball tenures. The youngest, Mayah, will enter high school next season.
Meya Ngundam, however, wanted a different path than her older sisters. College was her priority already and she saw the Science and Technology program as the best way to get there.
So she was the first Ngundam to go to Roosevelt and coach Eileen Lloyd remembers the strong-armed senior as a freshman learning to control a hit with plenty of strength behind it.
“As a freshman, she always swung as hard as she could,” Lloyd said. “Everything was as hard as you can, never really thinking about it.”
That changed with practice — both on the court and in the backyard.
“She's just matured so much,” Lloyd said. “She can turn it on when she needs to and knows when to turn it on. She starts with easy hits now and then starts hammering it.”
During the playoffs, Ngundam was the Raiders' top option offensively, but she may have been most noticeable on defense — saving balls with diving digs while setting the emotional example.
She also could set in a pinch. When setter Kirsten Fast was sick during the season, Ngundam volunteered to fill the position.
“I don't think we'd make it to states without her. Not even close,” Lloyd said. “She added so much to the team. She gave so much to other players as far as encouragement, they wouldn't be what they were without her.”
It didn't matter that Roosevelt spent the majority of the season practicing without a home gymnasium — it was under repair. Ngundam made it clear from the beginning of the season that the obstacle wouldn't keep them from going to states.
And Ngundam also credits many of the players who hadn't been playing the sport too long for the team's long run.
“Looking back, it was really amazing because we had a lot of girls that carried us to states who just started playing — India Mason and Rajawen Ocampo,” Ngundam said. “Their dedication to learn the sport got us there, especially with us struggling with no gym.”
Without a main gym, it meant some practices were held outdoors with the weather elements.
But during those times, Ngundam felt at home.
“Summers definitely aren't the same without the net,” she said.