Chemistry helps Gophers

The team is ranked No. 4 in the nation, its highest rank in the polls since 2009.

by Emily Polglaze

The No. 4 Gophers are ranked the highest they’ve been since 2009 — and while their statistics are up slightly across the board, teamwork and communication have also played a huge role in the team’s success.
The Gophers are atop the Big Ten standings and already have as many Big Ten wins halfway through the conference schedule as they did all of last year.
“We’ve really been working on the culture and the dynamic of our team,” junior Hannah Tapp said. “I think each day the dynamic strengthens and we get closer together.”
The team’s leadership starts with senior captain Daly Santana, whose impact was singled out by head coach Hugh McCutcheon.
“Daly’s been the rock for us,” McCutcheon said. “In terms of her consistency, night in and night out, a lot of people are feeding off of that.”
Santana has been an important asset to the Gophers so far this season. 
Santana has 333 of the team’s 1,030 total kills. She also leads the Big Ten in kills, averaging 4.5 per set. 
Santana is hard to miss on the court, frequently celebrating with or encouraging her teammates during games. 
The captain’s lead has allowed younger players to feel more comfortable voicing their opinions to the team.
“Daly has really stepped up this year,” Tapp said. “She’s spurred great conversations, and we’ve had great input from everyone. It’s really been a collective effort.”
The team has put in extra effort to get on top of the Big Ten. They head to the court before practices and before the coaches arrive to work on things they think they need to improve.
They also have players-only meetings each day.
Tapp said during these meetings the members of the team discuss their long-term goals for where they’d like to be by the end of the season.
The increased team communication came after a down year for the team last year.
The Gophers had a losing record in the Big Ten and were unranked at the end of the season.
“During the summer and in preseason we figured out how to be honest with each other and how to communicate efficiently,” Santana said in September. “I think that’s different than last year. This year we understand the impact that can have on our team and how we play together.”
The emphasis on communication seems to be working for the Gophers halfway through their conference schedule. 
“One of the best parts of this group is the way they interact not just on the court but off the court,” McCutcheon said. “They work hard, and they want to learn and get better. That’s one of the strengths, no doubt.”