Gentil nearing top of NCAA digs list

Robert Mews

Minnesota’s volleyball team wants to be known for its tough defense.

It comes as no surprise then, that senior libero Paula Gentil has created an All-American career by playing in Minneapolis.

Gentil isn’t just any volleyball player though; she is a defensive specialist who happens to be 86 digs away from becoming the all-time NCAA digs leader. At her current pace, she might break that record during Thanksgiving weekend.

“Her consistency, I think, has set the bar pretty high for the rest of the players,” coach Mike Hebert said about Gentil.

Gentil has set the standard for current and future Gophers players. In her four-year career, she has played in every match but four, and is just six matches away from playing in more matches than any other Gophers volleyball player.

“She’s been playing volleyball for a long time,” junior middle blocker Meredith Nelson said. “She’s a really good model on defense for us.”

If a good model for defense means hitting the ball with a foot or some other body part, then Gentil will do that as well.

Gentil said she gets some of her moves from playing soccer as a child in Brazil, and she “incorporates” some of those moves into her defensive play.

“I guess that stuff just comes a little bit easier for me,” Gentil said. “It’s just playing out there, and as a kid, you’re just playing.”

Gentil moved from Brazil to Florida when she was in high school. During that time, she won the Football Association Coaches Association Player of the Year Award in 2000 and 2001.

Awards and recognition followed her to Minnesota, where she has won 17 awards and honors in her Minnesota career. That impressive sum includes being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

“For the program, and the team, she’s represents the ushering in of how important it is to play solid defense,” Hebert said.

Hebert also said her play, not her communication, leads the team.

“She always knows what is going on and where to be,” Nelson said. “Obviously, that’s very helpful for us.”

However, as Gentil’s final season winds down, she has yet to win an NCAA championship. Nonetheless, she said if the team doesn’t go all the way this year, she would like to leave Minnesota knowing the program is stronger.

“I would like to leave knowing that Minnesota is a different team that plays a very, very good defense,” Gentil said. “Defense wins championships.”

In the future, Gentil said she would like to travel and possibly try professional volleyball.

“I’d just rather try it than regret not trying it,” Gentil said. “If it comes, great. If it doesn’t, I’ll go study and go travel.”