Daly Santana is a senior outside hitter and leader for the Gophers volleyball team, which has been one of the top teams in the nation this season, won the outright Big Ten title and should get a very high seed when the NCAA field is announced Sunday. In advance of that, Santana chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q You guys had a 15-match Big Ten winning streak snapped recently at Purdue. Is there a benefit to having a hiccup toward the end of the season before you get to the tournament?
A First off, Purdue had a really good game and they have a really good team. But there is a benefit to that. There are a lot of things to be learned. We still usually learn a lot in games that we win because there is still feedback on those games, but definitely when you don’t win there are things you want to look at that happened that you can fix for the next time you compete. We get to learn from that and move on and be a stronger team.
Q The Gophers were under .500 in the conference last year. What’s been the biggest difference between this year’s team and that squad?
A I’d say the unity on this team is different. Because of that we’ve been able to put a lot of hard work in, not just during the season but throughout the spring and summer. We’ve pushed each other, and I think that’s harder to do when you don’t have a team as united as we are. We all have a common goal and understand the hard work that needs to be put in. And it’s not over yet. We keep working hard every day.
Q As a senior who wants to finish your career on a high note, were you a driving force behind that?
A Of course. I want to finish strong. But that’s not just my goal, that’s a team goal. If we can do it this year, why not?
Q Take me back a few years to the point when you decided to come to the University of Minnesota from Puerto Rico. What was that thought process like?
A I think the team atmosphere had to be really good. It had to be a place I could grow as a player and a person. Minnesota allowed that for me. And the coaching staff. I really saw myself growing a lot here with the coaches that we have. The school is great. When you put everything together, it was the whole package.
Q Athletes say all the time that the years go by quickly. Does it feel weird to you that it’s almost done?
A Definitely. It’s crazy to think about it. Going back and thinking about how much I’ve grown and being able to be a part of all this has been amazing. I’m just glad I made the decision to come here.
Q Let’s fast-forward to Selection Sunday. Is there anything in particular you’re hoping for or looking for?
A I don’t think so, really. We’re just excited to see ourselves among those teams and be there. Then we know it becomes a different mentality. I don’t know how to explain it, but when it’s one game and you lose and it’s done, it’s different. All the preparation through the preseason and season has helped us mentally. We’ll all be excited to be there and know we’ve put the hard work in. We just need to have that same focus and leave it all on the court.