The discussion about the top player in Maine high school volleyball this year began and ended with one name: Annika Hester.

“Annika Hester is the most dominant player in the game,” Yarmouth Coach Jim Senecal said of the Falmouth sophomore. “She plays with great power in all six positions.”

For her consistency, varied shots and power, and for leading Falmouth to a convincing 3-0 win over Gorham for the Class A state championship, Hester is the Maine Sunday Telegram Volleyball Player of the Year.

“In high school volleyball, you don’t see a sophomore as a strong hitter who can pound the ball straight down,” said Biddeford Coach Ruth Shaw.

“Annika Hester has a jump serve and a technique of hitting the ball so it’s down and strong.”

Hester only started playing volleyball in seventh grade. But she had a leg up before that because her mother, Louise, and her father, Matt, played professional basketball in Denmark.

Hester grew up with a basketball in her hands or a soccer ball at her feet. Then she tried volleyball, and that was it.

“I’ve been playing basketball so long,” Hester said. “In our family, everyone plays. But when I picked up a volleyball I just lost the passion for (basketball). I love that volleyball is so much more of a team sport.”

Hester started playing club volleyball in seventh grade and immediately made the elite Maine Juniors team.

She intends to play Division I volleyball in college.

Falmouth Coach Larry Nichols said Hester is a powerful hitter – amassing 312 kills and 58 aces this season – but this year added other elements to her game.

“If anyone can hit harder than her, I don’t know where they are,” Nichols said. “When I watched her play in the state final last year, she had one shot that she varied with hard, harder and even harder. She had one recipe. She needed some other pieces in her cookbook. This year she worked on her roll and her tip.”

Nichols said when Hester first tried the tip, she was still firing the ball across the gym. Eventually she got the feel for it.

“She has such raw athletic ability,” Nichols said. “In the state final, she had a number of beautiful tips. They were beautiful because it was not expected, and because it showed she has the discipline to try to utilize more than just her power.

“I love that her ego doesn’t come into play. Her vision of the court is increasing.”

Hester said it’s fun to see blockers prepare for a kill and then be surprised as she puts a soft lob 4 to 5 inches over them.

“I used the tip a lot in the state game. Part of it is you have to sell it, make it look like you’re going to hit it hard,” she said with a smile.

Hester plans to spend the Christmas break at a volleyball camp at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, an invitation-only camp where she can develop more shots.

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or:

[email protected]