Steeped in tradition, the Marian volleyball program has become a fertile breeding ground for great players.
The program has produced the top volleyball player in the TIMES NEWS area in each of the last 19 years, and it will no doubt field several top-level players in the years to come.
However, it could be a while before it sees another one the caliber of Marykate Sherkness.
Not only has Sherkness started all four years of her high school career at outside hitter, but the 5-10 Tresckow resident has raised the bar for the Fillies' entire volleyball program.
The Marian senior has also set the standard of continuing a time-honored tradition of being the 19th consecutive TIMES NEWS Volleyball Player of the Year from Marian, a streak that dates back to 1994, when Brianne Homyak won the first of her three Player of the Year awards. Sherkness joins Homyak as the only three-time Volleyball Player of the Year recipient (2010-2012), and joins a list of two-time winners including Maria Poluka, Mary Horvat and Jill Homyak.
"Marykate's contributions are measured in her statistics and in her leadership," stated Marian head coach John "Doc" Fallabel. "Over the past few years, she's put the team on her shoulders and taken them as far as she could. She's a once-in-a-lifetime player and she's the best outside hitter that Marian's ever seen."
Over the course of her storied career, Sherkness has led the team to a combined record of 68-9. In addition, Sherkness was named the Schuylkill League Division 4 Player of the Year for the third straight season, was recognized as the District 11 Class A Most Valuable Player, and was selected to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class A All-State team for the third consecutive year.
"I don't play volleyball for records and awards, I play for the love of the game," stated a humbled Sherkness. "To be recognized as the Player of the Year for the past three seasons is a tremendous honor, but I've had the privilege of playing with great teammates and great coaches over those years and I couldn't have accomplished any of this without them. A great hit is only made possible because of a great pass and a great set."
As a killing machine, Sherkness has certainly made a career out of "great hits."
In her junior year, she set a single-season record for kills in a season with 564. With 160 kills her freshman year, 471 kills her sophomore season and 457 kills this past year, Sherkness also holds the career kills record at Marian with 1,652. She is the only Marian volleyball player to have eclipsed 400 kills in a season (accomplished three times) and is the lone Fillie to exceed 1,000 kills for her career. In doing so, she obliterated Jen Blasko's previous career kills record of 853.
Her 1,652 kills on 3,601 total attacks is good for a .320 career hitting percentage. In addition, Sherkness also had 294 career aces (second all time to Kayla Poluka), 931 career digs (third all time behind Taylor Mele and Devin Parambo) and 106 career blocks.
This season, Sherkness compiled 457 kills (on 972 attacks), 82 aces, 236 digs and 27 blocks in leading the Fillies to their first District 11 Class A championship since 2006 and a trip to the PIAA State semifinals.
While she had 150 fewer attacks and 107 less kills this season, it was all part of the plan according to Fallabel.
"To be successful and to go further than we have in the past, we needed to get other girls involved in the offense. Her attacks and kills were down tremendously this year, but that wasn't because she wasn't doing as well," added Fallabel. "She was actually playing as good as, if not better than, she's ever played before, but she was contributing more for the good of the team and that's just the type of unselfish player she is. She sacrificed personal goals for team goals and got the big prize in the end."
After falling short in the three previous years, winning her first District 11 Championship and going on a deep run in the State playoffs this season were the final pieces needed to provide closure for one of the greatest careers in the history of Marian volleyball.
"Getting that District Championship and going to States was my biggest goal for this season, but the thing I'm most proud of is just being able to say I've worn the Marian volleyball jersey," stated Sherkness. "Looking back on the last four years, I have no regrets and I've accomplished more than I ever thought possible. I'm just so proud to say I've started playing volleyball in the first place and I couldn't have asked for a better place to play than Marian."
Sherkness plans on attending college to play volleyball, and has narrowed her choices down to Elizabethtown, Lebanon Valley, Scranton and Susquehanna.
"Marykate has meant so much to this program over the years, and while I'm going to miss her as a volleyball player, I'm going to miss her even more as a person. You hate to see her move on, you know she must move on, and it's time for her to move on," said Fallabel. "Going forward, we'll be OK though, and Marykate knows that because she's left her imprint on the program and contributed to the legacy. She's raised the bar and set lofty goals for others to now achieve, and that's what Marian volleyball is all about."