Senior Helen Fitzpatrick, who helped Merion Mercy to the PIAA Class AA girls' volleyball championship, has been named the Gatorade player of the year for Pennsylvania.

The three-time Class AA all-state selection is now a finalist for the Gatorade national player of the year award, which will be announced later this month.

"I was shocked when my principal called me down and told me," Fitzpatrick said after learning of the state award yesterday afternoon. "I knew I had been named a finalist a week or so ago, but I didn't think I would win."

Fitzpatrick was recognized not only for her volleyball skill, but also for her academic achievement and character on and off the court.

The 6-foot setter carries a 3.16 GPA in the classroom and has volunteered her time as a member of her school's community service corps. The community service includes tutoring children in Philadelphia.

On the court, Fitzpatrick amassed 648 assists, 149 kills and 67 blocks this past season, as the Golden Bears lost only three sets while racking up an undefeated season. She was named most valuable setter of the PIAA championships.

"She's the main reason we were undefeated," said Merion Mercy coach Rich Johnson. "She touches every second ball. She runs everything on the court, talking, getting people where they need to be."

The key to being a good setter, Fitzpatrick explained, is being "in control" on the court.

"You have to be aware," Fitzpatrick said. "You need volleyball skills, but you also have to have mental ability, too."

Fitzpatrick, who was introduced to volleyball by her older sister, Liz, plans to study exercise science while playing for Delaware on a scholarship.