Nov. 29, 1996

Sterk Will Leave Legacy Of Excellence

by Brenda McGuire

Confidence and faith go hand-in-hand, and when you are successful at what you're doing, your level of satisfaction can only be enhanced.

For Val Sterk, her levels of confidence and faith are soaring as a prominent volleyball player, national leader and outstanding student. The Michigan State senior middle from Byron Center, Mich., is geared up for this weekend's home matches and anticipating the NCAA Tournament, winding down the best season of her career.

"I'm excited about this weekend," said Sterk, a South Christian High graduate. "With it being my last Big Ten weekend, it's hard to explain. I keep asking myself if I think I'll cry. But then I think, no, because it's really not sad. I don't think it's going to hit me until the season is done.

"I'm looking forward to the tournament, though, and we'll play here again probably in a first round match. I feel like we're peaking just in time for the tournament. It's just weird being a senior and all."

As a First-Team All-American in 1995, Sterk currently leads the nation with a .449 hitting percentage. The Spartan co-captain is having another All-American season, averaging a career-high 4.29 kills per game and is among the Big Ten leaders with a 1.29 blocks per contest average.

"I didn't expect to lead the nation in hitting percentage at all," said the daughter of Frank and Verlyn Sterk. "Looking back when I was a freshman, I never expected that.

"Mentally, I feel like when I look across the net at the opponents, I have enough confidence in myself that I can dominate them. I believe in myself and go into matches with confidence and a lot more aggression. I've really grown in my four years because I don't think people said I was very aggressive my freshman year. Now, it's my senior year and this is my last chance. When Julie sets the ball, all I'm thinking about is putting it on the ground for a kill."

Along with being a top hitter, Sterk is MSU's all-time leader with 120 career block solos and is one of 14 Big Ten players to record 500 career total blocks. Her total of 556 is good for seventh-place on the conference's all-time chart. She and teammate Dana Cooke are the only players in Spartan history to record 100 or more total blocks in a season four times. She has posted at least one block in 123 of 126 career matches, has hit .500 or better in 13 of 28 matches this season, posted double-figure kills in all but four matches and has six 20-kill matches.

"Val is one of my all-time great players," said MSU head coach Chuck Erbe. "It's absolutely incredible what she has achieved, particularly when you consider the fact she's never played club volleyball. She is a true high school athlete and that's a novelty in this day. She has a tremendous work ethic and desire to excell.

"Val will leave a legacy of excellence that will become a standard for the Michigan State volleyball program."

Aside from athletic ability, Sterk's leadership skills were enhanced this year when she was named team co-captain with Cooke.

"It was an honor to be named co-captain," Sterk said. "Dana and I have a great relationship because we've gone through it all together. Being a captain is a big role and responsiblity, and it's been a challenge for me. Achieving our goals is important to me, and I want to do everything in my ability to reach those goals."

After her collegiate volleyball career is over, Sterk said, "I would like people to think of me not just as "volleyball Val." So many people have influenced my life. My family is so important to me. They are so supportive and come to all of my matches, putting a lot of miles on the minivan.

"My relationship with Jesus Christ is very important to me, too. I would like people to know that. If I listed my priorities in life, it would be Jesus Christ, my family, my friends, then volleyball and school. Without Him, I would not have the opportunities I've had. He's given me such an incredible family and athletic ability to play volleyball. When I'm down and frustrated, He's gotten me through the rough times.

"I also have a lot of close friends from home I can count on. I have some really close friends here, my teammates and roommates, and my own cheering section from home along with my "Super Fans.""

Sterk's impressive reputation also has been strengthened by her excellence in the classroom. She recently was named to the GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-District IV team and has a 3.24 grade-point average as an education major.

"After volleyball, I'm going to finish my education because when it comes down to it, school comes before volleyball," Sterk said. "I would like to continue playing volleyball while my body can still handle it, too.

"I like to dream and think about the possibility of trying out for the national team or maybe playing beach volleyball or going overseas. Dana and I will definitely continue training after the season and see what opportunities come our way. When my body breaks down and I can't play volleyball anymore, then I'll start teaching."