In January of her seventh-grade year, Marykate Sherkness decided to try something new.

The Marian sophomore picked up a volleyball for the first time and immediately began to fall in love with the sport.

Now, just three years later, the game has fallen in love with Marykate, as her natural talents and limitless potential on the court have earned her recognition as the 2010 TIMES NEWS Volleyball Player of the Year.

It also marks the 17th straight year that a Marian player has captured the Player of the Year award, and the first time that a sophomore has been the recipient since Marian's Brianne Homyak achieved the feat in 1994 (her first of three straight Player of the Year accolades).

"This is a tremendous honor and one that I couldn't have accomplished alone," stated Sherkness. "I couldn't have done it without the support of my teammates and a great group of girls backing me up, and I certainly couldn't have done it without Doc (Marian head coach John Fallabel) and the rest of the coaches pushing me to play to my highest level."

As a two-year starting outside hitter, Sherkness helped guide the Fillies to an undefeated regular season (18-0), a Division 4 Championship, a Schuylkill League Championship and a second-place finish in the District 11 Class A Tournament.

In addition, Sherkness was recognized as the Schuylkill League Division 4 Player of the Year, as well as being selected to the District 11 Class A All-District First Team.

"Marykate's just a great girl to coach," added Fallabel. "She's only been playing volleyball for a few years but you can just see how much she loves the game. She is fun to be around, has a great attitude, works hard, takes things seriously and has committed herself to becoming the best player that she can be.

"Some people are naturals at certain things and Marykate certainly possesses a ton of natural athletic ability. Physically, she carries a club for a right arm, and mentally, she understands the finer points of the game."

After compiling 149 kills in her freshman season, Sherkness hammered home 471 kills this past season, which established a new single-season record for kills at Marian (breaking the previous mark of 389 kills set by Joelle Snyder in 2006). In addition, Sherkness tallied 98 aces and 314 digs during her first year as a full-time player.

With 620 kills for her career, Sherkness already ranks eighth on the all-time kills list in school history and is on pace to shatter Jen Blasko's all-time career kills record of 853 (2001-2004).

"Marykate may not be the tallest outside hitter (5-9), but when you take into account the length of her arms and legs, and the size of her torso and hands, you can just see that she is built to hit a volleyball."

Sherkness got her first taste of the game playing in AAU with the Coal Crackers Volleyball Club in 2008. In her eighth-grade year, she played CYO volleyball for Our Lady of the Angels Academy (OLOAA) in Lansford in addition to another year of club ball for the Coal Crackers.

In her freshman year at Marian, Sherkness became a member of CAVA (Court Authority Volleyball Academy), an elite traveling team based in the Lehigh Valley, and this winter, she will be playing for the Synergy Volleyball Club in Easton as a member of the Keystone Region Volleyball Association (KRVA).

"They're tough programs with good competition, but I think having the opportunity to play with different players and coaches is really beneficial," added Sherkness. "The things I'm learning and the skills I'm developing this winter can only help make me a better volleyball player in the fall for Marian."

Sherkness will be the lone returning starter back for a Fillies squad that must replace six seniors in its starting lineup.

"Marykate was a great role-player with a bunch of seniors this past year. She knew her role and played it perfectly," said Fallabel. "She's always been a consummate team player and there's nothing but upside in her future. Now it's her time to step up, carry the load and be the leader of this team."

"I'd like to thank my mom for encouraging me to pick up a volleyball back in seventh grade and my dad for taking me to every practice, game and tournament," added Sherkness. "I'd also like to thank Doc for pushing me to my fullest potential, and I'd especially like to thank the girls for taking me under their wings and helping me along the way. They've not only been great teammates, but they've also been true friends."

In a relationship which began three years ago and is still going strong today, it's become quite clear that Marykate Sherkness and the game of volleyball are a perfect match.