January 13, 2020
Northern Highlands is used to having outstanding teams. As Esmae Oehler enters her senior year, it’s going to be difficult to tops last years team effort. But this Highlander team could be even better than last years squad that went 23-4. Despite losing a dominant Emily Hosford and the versatility of Sofie Ricca to graduation, they bring back a world of talent, including Oehler who we expect to break out.
Esmae posted 93 kills, 66 digs, and 28 aces in her junior year. She joins a cast of talented rising seniors including Athena Georgiades, Liz Frassetto, and Bella Calcara and standout juniors Ruby ven der Heide, Emma Lomuti, and Abby Chu.
NJP Preseason rankings have NH at #14 in NJ with well over 300 high school programs. But 5 teams in the top 20 are from the super competetive Big North and the Highlanders will again battle the usual culprits: IHA, Demarest, Old Tappan, and Wayne Valley.
Esmae is a talented outside hitter. She has excellent passing skills and her serve receive is a strong part of her game. She has excellent instincts and positions herself extremely well in anticipation of opponent attacks. She is a solid jumper and has a sweet swing stroke that creates hits with velocity that are hard to defend.
Under normal circumstances, we would be projecting her with both 200 kills and 200 digs, but with the uncertainty around the COVID shortened season, her leadership will be the most important factor in her teams success. She would love to finish out her career on top before she moves on to advance her academic and athletic careers at Muhlenberg next fall where she plans to study neuroscience.
Here is our interview with Ms. Oehler…
Tell us a bit about yourself, Esmae?
I am a senior at Northern Highlands Regional High School in the class of 2021, and I am graduating this June. I live in Allendale with my mom, my dad, and my 14 year old brother who just started high school at Northern Highlands. It is never dull at the Oehler household because we have a young dog and cat who play with each other all the time.
How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?
I’ve been competitively playing volleyball for about six years. The first time I picked up a volleyball, I was in fourth grade. My mom signed me up for a week-long summer camp. Growing up I played basketball, soccer, and softball, but volleyball wasn’t one of the recreational sports they offered in my old town, so pretty much everyone at the camp had never played. Right off the bat I enjoyed myself, but the moment that really sold me on the sport was when we practiced hitting. The high schoolers coaching the camp had us doing hitting lines, and no one could really get it over the net without launching it into the air. After a few tries, I jumped high enough to hit the ball. The coaches were so surprised, and I remember how excited they were when I finally nailed it. I knew then and there that was a feeling I never wanted to lose. I did another camp the following year, and when I started middle school, I decided that I wanted to find something more serious.
I played for Allegro for two years, and then in eighth grade my family and I moved to Allendale. Volleyball had just started to become a big part of my life, and I knew that I wanted to keep playing. When we moved, my mom and I looked for clubs, and that was when I was first introduced to DIGS. I made it my 14’s year, and I have been playing there ever since.
What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What’s your favorite position to play?
I am 5’9”, and I am an outside hitter for DIGS. Outside hitter also just happens to be my favorite position.
Tell us about your NH teammates. Who do you expect will be this year’s standout and up and coming players?
This year we have such a talented team filled with amazing girls that I can’t wait to play alongside. Everyone brings so much to this team. We have eleven seniors so the team will be filled with players ready to lead. My teammate Athena Georgiades (senior) has been a weapon in previous seasons, but not just for her powerful swing. We can always count on Athena to hype up the team. Her positive and encouraging energy is contagious. But it won’t only be the seniors leading this team. Our junior setter, Ruby Van Der Heide, will be crucial to our success this year. She has an extremely high volleyball IQ and makes great decisions on how to run our offense. Northern Highlands will come into this season full steam ahead, ready to play.
Highlands had an amazing season in 2019 winning their first ten games against some super talented teams and finishing the year at 23-4. Tell us about the ride…
We started last season by taking out Old Tappan. This has always been one of our favorite matchups because we know they will not hold back. We took that energy into our next game against Demarest. Again, more competition. But we fought and ended up winning. We started off the season 10-0, taking out some tough competition along the way. I think the reason we went this far without losing a game was because we didn’t let it get to our heads. Game after game we used each other’s energy to come out on top. Game 11 last season was against the powerhouse IHA. Nerves got the best of us, and we carried that into our next game against Old Tappan, losing in the third set. After that we had to reevaluate. For the rest of the season we fought hard and it paid off. We stayed strong up until the State Quarterfinals against West Morris Central. Even though last season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, I think we were successful. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this season is because I learned so much about our team from last season, and I, more than ever, am ready to get back on the court with my Northern Highlands teammates.
How did the postponement of the Fall high school season affect your high school team?
The postponement of the fall season was disappointing to say the least. I think we were all getting really pumped up. When the end of August rolls around it’s always an exciting time of the year because preseason is starting, but when we had that stripped away from us we were all crushed. But right when it was cancelled, my teammate Athena said, “this is a good thing, we have more time to prepare for February.” After she said this, I think we all challenged ourselves to look on the bright side of the situation. After all, we now have something to look forward to in a few months. Although everything is always up in the air with this pandemic, I think our team has stayed hopeful and positive. When the season rolls around, we will be ready.
Tell us about your DIGS club experience…
I have learned so much from being a player on DIGS. My coaches throughout the years have taught me how to be a better player, a better teammate, and a better person. The coaches at DIGS are extremely supportive. Coach Bill Lee and Coach Annie DeLoid helped me so much in the recruiting process, and I am so grateful for everything they have done to get me where I am. Playing at DIGS these past 5 years has helped me compete at a high level, all while having fun. I’ll take the lessons and skills I learned at DIGS about volleyball and leadership into my future volleyball career and professional career.
What do you plan to study in college or what is your career path? I plan to study neuroscience in college. I think the brain is so interesting, and I always ask myself what role the brain plays in our everyday emotions and actions. In school, I’ve always been interested in science and how things work. This is the perfect major for me because there is so much to learn.
NJP considers you one of the best volleyball players in the state. Do you plan on playing in college and if so, which ones are you considering?
In September, I committed to play Division III volleyball at Muhlenberg College. After a long and difficult search process, I finally found my home for the next four years. Ever since I stepped on campus, I knew it was a great fit for me.
Who inspires you?
My dad inspires me because he has so many passions in life that he continues to pursue. He loves his job, but it doesn’t stop there. Walking is one of his favorite things to do. He goes on about an 8 mile walk pretty much every day when he gets home from work. He also loves to sing, so sometimes he has his friends over to sing together. My dad played collegiate tennis at Lafayette College and still manages to pick up the racket every once and awhile. I admire that he is able to still do everything that he loves. This is something that I hope I can do in the future.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I have many quotes that inspire me, but one of my favorites is “you get out what you put in. If you want more, give more” by Jeanette Jenkins. I do my best to use this quote in every aspect of my life: volleyball, relationships, family. The reward is so much greater when you work for it.
What are your other hobbies or interests? Along with volleyball, I love playing with my brother and my dog. I’m a big outdoors person, and I never get sick of nature’s beauty. After taking certain classes in school, I’ve realized I have so many interests. My junior year, I decided to take a photography class, and I loved it so much that I continued the path of photography and took a higher level photography class this year, my senior year. Volunteering is also one of my favorite things to do. I’ve been on three mission trips to Virginia and West Virginia to fix homes for people who can’t afford it, and hands down it is my favorite week of the year. I get so much out of helping others, and I would like to continue volunteering when I’m older.
Is there a teacher or coach who really helped you along the way that you would like to recognize here?
My 16s and 18s years I was/am so lucky to have Coach Warren Tom as my club coach. Warren has pushed me so hard over the years, and I am grateful for every second of it. He is the type of coach that always holds me accountable if I am not doing my best. Warren has shown me that it’s all about what you do when the game gets tough. Right from the start, he pushed me to be a leader for my teammates in difficult situations. In practice, whenever playing against Warren, he won’t hold back, but whenever I make a good play, I know I fully earned it. I cannot begin to thank him enough for believing in me from the start, and for teaching me skills that I will use in my future.
I’d also like to recognize my 17’s coach, Annie DeLoid. Annie didn’t only help me improve at volleyball, but also helped me get recruited. After all the emails she sent to coaches and long conversations we had about what I was looking for in a school, I can wholeheartedly say that I couldn’t have asked for a better person to help me get through this journey. One of the things that Annie would always tell me is, “If you put all your effort into playing for me, I will go the extra mile for you.” Going through this process with Annie made our relationship on and off the court so strong. I’m so grateful for everything Annie has done for me, and I know that I will always have her in my corner.