Robert Esser admits to fleeting moments of jealousy as he watched his teammates take their aggression out on a volleyball, while he was the one who always floated it to them.
"Occasionally, I'd get hitter's envy," he said.
But it never lasted long.
His cousin played setter, and Esser naturally gravitated to the position.
He was gifted from the outset, and led the Highland boys volleyball team to the 5A state title match this season to earn the Tribune Player of the Year award.
"Not too many boys want to set," Highland coach Vee Hiapo said. "It’s always, 'I want to hit.' He had the opportunity to hit, but he just wanted to set."
Esser was the engine that made the Hawks go. He generally would have four different passing options on each play, and almost always made the right decision.
"We had a wide variety of sets, and he was always able to create different things," Hiapo said.
Esser began playing the game in eighth grade, following his cousin and his older sister into the sport.
He played basketball and baseball, but gave them up to concentrate full-time on volleyball.
Esser started at setter for Highland last season, but was the only returner with starting experience for the Hawks this year.
Esser said he took on more of a leadership role this season, and Hiapo noted throughout the year about this team’s work ethic.
"They were all just good friends that had so much respect for each other," Hiapo said. "If someone wanted to work on something, Robert would always be the last to leave (the gym). He’d stay until 10, 11 o’clock at night."
True to form, Esser’s season didn’t stop when the school year did. He is playing with a club ball team in Tucson — making the commute each week — and wants to play collegiately next year.
"At the end of my sophomore year, I just knew this was something I wanted to do as long as possible," Esser said.
And there's no doubt the position he will play.
"I’ve always liked being it," Esser said. "I'm good with setting."
All-Tribune Boys Volleyball First Team
Player Yr. School Pos. Comment
Robert Esser Sr. Highland Setter Made all his teammates better
Michael Tilleman Sr. Desert Vista Middle blocker Multiple blockers could not slow him
Brett Sevy Sr. Mesquite Outside hitter One of the E.V.’s most potent hitters
Ryan Olsen Jr. Mountain View Middle blocker Burst onto scene in ’10
Riley Heywood Sr. Corona del Sol Middle blocker Explosive player
Kyle Webb Sr. Gilbert Outside hitter Injuries slowed him, but still elite
All-Tribune Boys Volleyball Second Team
Player Yr. School Pos. Comment
Anthony Amos Sr. Higley Setter 4A East Sky Region player of year
Dallas Allred Sr. Mesa OH Carried the Jackrabbits at times
Kevin Morrison Sr. Highland MB Underrated part of solid Hawks squad
Don Dia Sr. Hamilton OH Very athletic player
Andrew Gott Jr. Desert Vista OH Pounced when teams focused on Tilleman
Saxon Richardson Jr. Mountain Pointe MB Helped lead Pride to 5A-I quarterfinals
Basha: Ian Harris, Sr., OH; Brophy: Sean Brady, Sr., Opp; Taylor Bouve, Sr., OH., Chandler: Chris Decker, Sr. S, Parker Mildebrandt, Sr., Opp; Nathan Lewis, Sr., MB; Corona del Sol: Alex Davis, So., OH; Austin Peck, Sr., OH; Desert Vista: Scott Gavin, Sr., S; Gilbert: Jamyn Jones, Sr., OH; Zack Johnson, Sr., MB; Hamilton: Connor Burke, Sr., S; Taua Bader, So., MB; Highland: Jordan Clare, Sr., OH; Chase LeBaron, Sr., MB; Higley: Austin Rollins, Sr., MB; Cory Hall, Sr., L; McClintock: Brian Aberle, Sr., MB; Mesa: Kyler Fackrell, OH, Sr,; Mesquite: Zach Usevitch, Jr, MB; Mountain Pointe: Jared Ahern, Jr., OH; Daniel Coronado, Sr., S; Mountain View: Reece Scurr, Sr., MB; Derek Skousen, So., S; Brad Tanner, Jr., OH; Notre Dame: Joe Versen, Sr., MB; Will Barton, Sr., MB, Mike Clarin, Sr., S; Perry: Justin Alleman, Sr., OH; Matt Dorney, Jr., OH; Red Mountain: Paul Workinger, Sr., OH; Williams Field: C.J. Howard, Sr., OH.
Memorable Moments from the 2010 Season
Crucial Comeback: Chandler’s memorable season looked like it was coming to an early close when Gilbert took a two-games-to-none lead in the first round of the state tournament. But the Wolves stormed back to win the final three games of the match to advance to the state quarterfinals. The Wolves were knocked out by Highland in the next round, but it was a solid season for a program trying to move into the state’s upper echelon.
Just short: Highland was one of the favorites from the start of the year despite a lack of experience. The Hawks hit their stride halfway through the season by winning the Brophy Invitational and advanced to the state title match without much trouble. Once there, they battled Glendale Deer Valley to a fifth game, but ultimately fell short. It was the third time in the last five years Highland has made the title game, but it hasn’t won a championship since 2005.
On the rise: The Higley boys volleyball program took another positive step this year, finishing with a 13-3 record and advancing to the 4A quarterfinals before falling to Tucson Sabino in five games. The Knights won their second straight region championship, and boasted the East Sky’s Player of the Year in setter Anthony Amos.