EAST LANSING -- Alyssa Garvelink is poised for a big finish.

The Michigan State senior volleyball player is coming off of her first All-American season, leading the Spartans to the second round of the NCAA tournament and earning All-Big Ten honors.

Now a captain, the Holland, Mich. native and her Spartan teammates, including six more seniors, are looking for a superb senior sendoff.

"It is a lot different as a senior," Garvelink said. "I feel like there is a ticking time bomb on my shoulders. I feel more driven and focused. It means a lot. It was team voted, so it means even more. I need to step up more vocally. I already had a little bit of a leadership role, but I will be held more accountable now. I feel like all of us -- there are seven seniors -- feel that way. It is a really competitive atmosphere in the gym. It is a lot of fun because everyone is shooting toward the same goal -- a Big Ten championship."

The Spartans finished fifth in the conference last year at 13-7 -- a conference that has six teams ranked in the top 20 in the nation -- and are ranked No. 17 in the preseason coaches poll this season.

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"I really want a Final Four ring, but one step at a time," said Garvelink, who totaled 145 block assists and 160 total blocks as a junior. She averaged 1.40 blocks per set, which was second in the Big Ten. She totaled 273 kills and hit .359.

The Spartans are believing in their talent, with nearly the entire lineup returning from last year's stellar team.

"I feel the vibe of a team that knows it is good. We have that swag, and that is not a negative thing," Michigan State coach Cathy George said. "We believe that we are good and have a lot of respect for what we are capable of doing."

That is led by Garvelink.

"The big thing was maturity. I finally came into my own. I have been playing next to the same girls for three years, so that definitely helped. Just being smarter about my play in general," she said. "Just working on even more shots and having an answer for every call."

Garvelink, a former all-state middle blocker at Holland Christian, and her teammates got a head start to the season, playing in Italy and Slovenia during a summer trip.

"It was an awesome experience. The Italian team plays so different than us, so that was really cool. All the sight-seeing was amazing. We went to Lake Como, Oh my gosh it was beautiful," she said.

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But the competition was eye-opening.

"They were really scrappy and their defense was really well put together," she said. "It was nice getting to bond on the court and get ahead of the game."

The experience prepared Garvelink for a future in professional volleyball overseas.

"I am probably going to play professionally this spring. Hopefully in Europe somewhere. Italy definitely gave me a taste. It is not a long season and it is a good paycheck. It will be good for me," she said.

George saw Garvelink's eyes open a little wider in Italy, too.

"The trip to Italy really opened her eyes," George said. "She was nervous about going over there to play professionally. It has changed how she practices and how she is thinking. She isn't thinking that this year is the end."

Especially with the entire year to go.

"When Garvelink started here, she was a physical presence, but her volleyball IQ wasn't great. She didn't know why she was doing what she was doing, it was all instinctual from a great athlete," George said. "Now she is a great volleyball player who is a great athlete. It is exciting to see players grow from their freshman year to their senior year.

"She truly understands what kind of player she can be. She is aspiring to high levels. The difference between good and great, or great an phenomenal are there and she sees that."

This article is written by Dan D'Addona from Holland Sentinel, Mich. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.