By Charles Hallman
There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. Beginning this week and throughout the 2013-14 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight these players.
This week: Gopher sophomore volleyball player Daly Santana
Although last Wednesday’s Minnesota-Wisconsin volleyball match wasn’t billed that way, it featured an “Only One” matchup as U of M soph outside hitter Daly Santana and Twin Cities native Dominique Thompson, a U of W junior, were the
only players of color that night at the Sports Pavilion.
Santana finished with 10 kills, 11 digs, and had one of the team’s three aces in the 3-1 regular-season home finale win. “You look at her performance tonight — it was really strong,” remarked Gopher Coach Hugh McCutcheon afterwards. “It was just steady.”
That’s the kind of steadiness he wants from Santana every night, he added. “We’re very proud of her. I think it’s been a really pivotal season… She had to evolve and make changes in a significant way.”
“I feel a lot better now,” remarked the young woman from Puerto Rico. “I feel a lot more prepared for everything, not only in volleyball but also in school. I know now how to do things and prepare myself for it. Volleyball wise, I feel like this is the time to keep working on my whole game and how to be a better teammate and how to be a better player.”
Santana told the MSR that her one-on-one exit interview with McCutcheon after last season certainly helped. He told her “not only what I needed to improve, but also that I had to improve from last year,” she recalled.
“She’s becoming a strong presence,” said the Gopher coach on Santana, who’s third in the Big Ten in aces. The 6’-1” outside hitter also is the team leader in aces and third in kills. This season Santana has led the Gophers four times in points and digs, thrice in kills, and once in total blocks.
Game management is the one area McCutcheon has seen the biggest improvement in Santana’s game, he observed. “She can do so many spectacular things, but she is not letting that define her. I think overall she is playing a much smarter game in managing the game.
“She’s come a long way in my opinion, and she still has plenty to go. I’m really happy in the way she is trying to play the game different than it was in the beginning [of the season],” he said.
“I’m helping my teammates do the points in any way I can. It’s not that I am not thinking about the stats — I’m more thinking about how can I help my teammates, how can I help us win the next point. Not how can I help me win the next point,” said Santana.
Unlike last year, Santana appears more comfortable speaking, especially to reporters, as her English is improving. “I feel like I don’t have to ask so many times after Hugh had said something. My teammates have been helping me a lot,” she said smiling.
On her second year in the classroom, “I feel a lot more organized,” said Santana.
Why were only two Blacks — Lynx forward Maya Moore and Lynx broadcaster Lea B. Olsen — interviewed on camera on Channel 2’s one-hour show on media coverage and women’s sports?
“I think we’ve done enough” to get into the NCAA tournament, McCutcheon told the MSR after last week’s win over Wisconsin. This was confirmed Sunday as 10th-seeded Minnesota (27-6) hosts Radford (25-9) at the Sports Pavilion Friday at 7 pm. The winner plays the winner of the Iowa State-Colorado match Saturday at 7 pm.
“We’re hoping for a good run,” McCutcheon predicted.
Big Ten Conference officials announced December 3 that Daly Santana is one of its 2013 Postseason Volleyball Sportsmanship Award Honorees.
See “Sports Odds and Ends” on this week’s MSR website on a hometown hoopster’s recent homecoming.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected].