By Charles Hallman
There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2014-15 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight these players.
Junior Outside Hitter Daly Santana is the only one of her class on this year’s Gopher volleyball team, a young squad with two seniors, six sophomores and five freshmen.
Before the season began last month, U-M Coach Hugh McCutcheon pointed to the third-year player from Puerto Rico as an expected leader on his squad. “Daly has done a really nice job over the summer to become more consistent as a volleyball player, and also become a leader on this team,” he says. “I like the progress she has made in the gym. I’m very glad she’s a Gopher.”
Upon arrival on campus two fall seasons ago, Santana was adjusting to both college ball and a foreign language virtually at the same time. Up until now, she was the only player of color on the team. But this year, she’s joined by Dalianliz Rosado, a fellow native Puerto Rican. The two have known each other throughout childhood — their mothers are best friends.
Like her friend, Rosado also is simultaneously adjusting to life as a college student and volleyball player while getting comfortable with her new language and teammates as well. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to do this alone.
“They can help each other out,” McCutcheon says about Santana and Rosado, a freshman libero (a defensive specialist position). “I think that’s a good thing. There’s some culture things they [both] find comfort in.”
“We’ve been friends for nine years,” says Santana. “We play club together. I think for the last two or three years, we knew that at some point we were going to play together here.”
Rosado adds that the point her friend refers to came sometime after her official recruiting visit earlier this year. “I loved the campus and the team. I love the coaching staff, too,” she says.
“She intuitively gets the game,” observes McCutcheon. “She can play all the positions [and] she’s especially effective as a libero. She makes lots of good choices.
“We’re very happy to have Dalianliz here, not [just] because she can complement Daly but because she’s such a good volleyball player and such a great young woman,” says the coach.
Like her friend, Rosado at first meeting isn’t overly comfortable speaking to a reporter but hopefully like her friend she will grow accustomed to the attention, as Santana seemingly has after two years: “I want to get better,” admits the freshman. “[Santana] helps me out a lot.”
Minnesota has one of the Big Ten’s youngest squads, and the school’s youngest in recent memory. McCutcheon, now in his second full year as U-M head coach (he was hired in 2011 but served as U.S. Olympic coach in 2012), says, “With so much youth, and relative inexperience, it’s really hard to know how they are going to do in the moment of competition.
“If we can stay strong as a team and continue to learn and grow, and develop at the rate we are doing it, I’m very optimistic. I think the group, one through 14, is committed to the idea of being the best we can be.”
“I think a lot of us are working hard, trying to lead each other in different ways,” says Santana. I’m definitely comfortable in my role [as a leader]. I definitely am going to do everything I can to help the team in any way I can.
“She’s excited to be here, and so am I,” concludes Santana on Rosado, her friend and teammate.
Chicago’s Pokey Chatman becomes only the second Black woman in league history to lead a team to the WNBA Finals.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.