Santana makes history with Team Puerto Rico

Big Ten Player of the Year Daly Santana will play with Puerto Rico in its first Olympic indoor volleyball appearance.

Outside hitter Daly Santana strikes the ball against Penn State in the Sports Pavilion on Nov. 14, 2015.

Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Outside hitter Daly Santana strikes the ball against Penn State in the Sports Pavilion on Nov. 14, 2015.

Carissa Polo

Daly Santana’s historic run with the Gophers may be over, but the former Minnesota outside hitter is not done adding to her list of accolades.

Santana helped her home country Puerto Rico’s national indoor volleyball team qualify for this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro for the first time in May.

“It was a bit surreal,” Santana said in an email. “We kept telling ourselves, ‘Hey, we are three games away from qualifying,’ but it didn’t quite hit us. And then we did it, and to this day I still think we haven’t completely understood what that means. It still hasn’t hit us.”

The Puerto Rican team had to compete against Algeria, Colombia and Kenya to earn a spot in the Olympic Games. Puerto Rico defeated Algeria and Colombia in straight sets through the first two days of the tournament.

Puerto Rico then went on to sweep Kenya in the championship round to earn its first-ever Olympic berth. 

Puerto Rico was the last team to qualify for Rio in a 12-team field.

To prepare for the Olympics, Santana has been playing with the San Juan Capitalinas, a professional team based out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she went to play after Minnesota’s season was over.

In her senior year, Santana started all 35 matches and was ranked first on the team in kills, points and service aces. She was named Big Ten Player of the Year and a First Team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association and Volleyball Magazine.

“I think over the course of her career she definitely became better at playing the game,” said Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon. “When she first got here she was doing one or two things, but by the end of it she was really good at the whole thing.”

Minnesota junior defensive specialist Dalianliz Rosado grew up not far from Santana in Morovis, Puerto Rico, and has played both alongside and against Santana since she was 9.

“It doesn’t surprise me because she’s a great player and she gives it all,” Rosado said. “Every goal she has she ends up achieving, and she doesn’t give up.”

Santana said her collegiate experience at Minnesota helped her become a learner, which she believes is one of the key skills she’ll utilize in Rio.

“To learn and to grow as a player every day can take you a long way,” she said. “There are many lessons and many values that I take with me and will use to be the best I can be in the Olympics and moving forward with my career as an athlete and my personal life when all of this is over.”