East Lansing, Mich. -- Michigan State held its annual awards brunch on Sunday, Jan. 8, and junior Alyssa Garvelink (Holland, Mich.) came away with a pair of awards, including being named Team Most Valuable Player. The brunch signaled the official end to the 2016 season for the Spartans -- a record-setting and productive campaign that saw MSU host NCAA matches at Jenison Field House to cap the year after shattering previous single-game and cumulative season attendance marks.
The 2016 Spartans finished the season with a 25-9 overall record, and went 13-7 for a fifth-place finish in the Big Ten Conference, their highest finish in the Big Ten since the 2007 season. MSU's 25-9 record tied for the most wins in the Cathy George era, while the squad's 13 Big Ten victories tied for the fourth-most Conference wins in a season in program history (and the most in the George era). Michigan State finished the season at No. 19 in the final American Volleyball Coaches (AVCA) National poll.
MSU made its 19th overall NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016, and earned its sixth consecutive at-large bid to the Championship, the second-longest streak in school history. MSU earned the tournament's overall No. 9 seed and hosted first and second-round matches at Jenison Field House. The Spartans won their first-round NCAA Tournament match for the sixth straight season, the longest streak in program history.
Garvelink was named MVP and also earned the team's Playmaker Award. The 6-4 product of Holland Christian High School and Michigan Volleyball Academy was a Second Team AVCA All-American and First Team All-Big Ten selection. In 2016, she averaged 1.40 blocks per set and ranked seventh in a single season at MSU, while her 145 block assists is fifth and her 160 total blocks sixth in the Spartan single-season annals. Garvelink ranked fourth in the Big Ten in total blocks and third in blocks per set (19th nationally), while also ranking seventh in the Conference with a .359 hitting percentage. During the season, she tied the school record for block assists in a three-set match with 10 vs. Illinois on Nov. 5, and was twice named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. The Academic All-Big Ten selection is moving up the career charts at MSU as well, as her 406 career blocks ranks ninth all-time at MSU, and her 362 block assists is sixth.
The team's Kirkby Scholar-Athlete Award, the lone award not determined by team vote but instead by cumulative grade point average, went to junior Rachel Minarick (Naperville, Ill.). A three-year starter at setter, Minarick was a First Team Academic All-District selection by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) and earned Academic All-Big Ten honors for the second time in her career. Minarick, a junior, holds a 3.95 cumulative grade-point average as a kinesiology major, and also excels on the court- the 2016 co-captain became the seventh setter in school history to surpass 3,000 career assists. Her career total of 3,323 ranks sixth all-time in the MSU record book, while her career average of 9.89 assists per frame is eighth.
The Extra Mile Award was given to senior Allyssah Fitterer (Georgetown, Ontario). Despite battling through injuries, she led the Spartans with a .361 hitting percentage (sixth in the Big Ten) as a senior and also surpassed the 1,000 kill mark against Michigan on Nov. 23. A three-time Honorable Mention AVCA All-North Region pick and Academic All-Big Ten honoree, Fitterer was also voted the team's Most Improved Player in 2013 and Most Inspirational Player as a sophomore.
The Most Inspirational Player Award went to senior Autumn Christenson (Whitehall, Mich.). Despite battling through five knee surgeries that has limited her playing time throughout her career, she never failed to provide unwavering support to her teammates. As a testament to her role on the team, she was voted the recipient of the Extra Mile Award in 2015. In her career, she has appeared in 55 of a possible 125 matches, boasting powerful swing that could be a game-changer.
Freshman Lauren Swartz (Pittsburgh, Pa.) was voted the recipient of the Most Improved Player Award. She and the staff decided early in the year that she would redshirt her true freshman season, but that in no way indicated that she planned to take a year off. The first-year outside hitter committed herself to getting stronger and improving, and she factors considerably in the plans for the Spartans in 2017.
After the presentation of the team awards, each of the program's four seniors took the dais and spoke about their Spartan careers. Defensive specialist Kristen Brashear, middle blocker Allyssah Fitterer, and outside hitters Autumn Christenson and All-America Chloe Reinig reflected upon their time in Green and White; the senior class completed a four-year record of 86-49 (.637), making four NCAA Tournament appearances.