Santana stymies sophomore slump, leads Gophers

Daly Santana leads the Gophers in service aces and is third on the squad in kills.

Minnesota outside hitter Daly Santana blocks the ball on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, against Indiana at the Sports Pavilion.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Minnesota outside hitter Daly Santana blocks the ball on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, against Indiana at the Sports Pavilion.

by Megan Ryan

Gophers outside hitter Daly Santana hasn’t changed much between her freshman to sophomore seasons.

She’s still a solid starter with a fast arm and even faster jump-spin serve. But the Puerto Rico native admits one big change in a year’s time.

“Well, my English has gotten a lot better,” Santana said. “And that makes me really happy.”

Santana spent all summer in the U.S., working on her volleyball and her English.

And the hard work has paid off — not a sophomore slump in sight.

She’s third on the team with 117 kills, averaging just less than three per set with a .254 hitting percentage. She is second in digs with 116.

“I think she’s improved in a few facets of the game,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “Certainly, her blocking is a big upgrade from what it was a year ago. I think she’s steadier in reception. And she’s learning to hit the ball with a little more range.”

Senior setter Alexandra Palmer, Santana’s roommate last year, said her teammate’s hitting this season has been incredible.

“She can use the block, go line and go angle,” Palmer said. “She’s got everything.”

There is one aspect of Santana’s game, though, that might outshine her hitting — her serve.

Santana leads the team with 16 service aces that either stun a crowd to silence or make it roar to its feet.

“I think she’s not quite as error-prone as she was a year ago,” McCutcheon said. “She’s learning how to manage the quality of the toss, keep it in if she needs to. I think there’s still plenty of meat on the bone.”

Santana said she doesn’t feel like much of a leader for the Gophers, though this year she’s more sure of her place on the team.

“She takes that [leadership] role not from a vocal standpoint but more of a setting a good example for the girls,” Palmer said.

While Santana has another Spanish speaker on the team in multilingual Italy native Clelia De Felice, her improved English skills have helped her improve her communication on the court.

“I feel like that was a big part for us,” Santana said. “I feel it’s getting a lot better, and it’s helping us a lot to know more about to each other, and it helps us in the gym.”

Still, Santana’s personality is just as much of a pick-me-up in practice this year as it was last year.

“She’s always happy,” Palmer said. “She’s always yelling, screaming, speaking Spanish. It’s awesome.”