The Only One | A jam-packed weekend of sports action

This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.

Five volleyball matches. Two play-off elimination games. Another first-time experience for the Only One.

This reporter’s all-time high was set this weekend in covering five college volleyball matches over the course of two days — the annual Gophers pre-season tournament at the Sports Pavilion. The Gophers won all their scheduled matches.

Daly Santana and father Christian Elias Santana
Daly Santana and father Christian Elias Santana

After a 3-0 Saturday morning win over North Dakota State, when senior Daly Santana, who was named tournament MVP, led Minnesota in kills. When asked about the difficulty of playing so much in less than two full days, she replied, “A lot of it is mental. You have treatment [after matches] and all that stuff to recover first. But if your mind is not in the right mindset, it won’t help you in the game.

“When you are in shape mentally,” she continued, “your body will do as it is supposed to do.” Daly’s father, Christian Elias Santana, who hails from Puerto Rico, was in town and watched his outside hitter daughter in action. He spoke to the MSR between matches, with his daughter assuming the role of interpreter. “I love to see my daughter play,” he said.

Minnesota had the most Black players [three] and players of color [five] among the four tournament teams, followed by UC Irvine and University of Central Florida with two Black players each. UCF also had the only Black coach, Assistant Head Coach Michelle Chatman.

One of her two players, Junior Outside Hitter Jale Hervey, had a tournament-high 34 kills in a five-set loss to UC Irvine. Her teammate, Kia Bright, a junior outside hitter, kept her college streak alive — she has never finished with less than five kills in 52 collegiate starts and counting.

Then we traveled across the Mississippi to St. Paul’s Rivertown and the St. Paul Saints’ first-year ballpark, where seemingly the “Mindy factor” rule is always in effect whenever I am in the press box.

St. Paul Saints outfielder Alonzo Harris
St. Paul Saints outfielder Alonzo Harris

We nonetheless covered our first-ever American Association Semi-Finals elimination games — the host Saints came into last Saturday’s game down 0-2 to Sioux City in the best-of-five series.

“We’re back home and have a great crowd,” noted Saints Centerfielder and leadoff batter Alonzo Harris, the team’s only Black player who went 1-for-4, stole a base and scored his team’s first run to helped St. Paul defeat the Explorers 3-1. He went 2-for-3 the following game, a 2-1 defeat that eliminated St. Paul three games to one
“Regardless of you [whether you] win or lose,” said Harris, “have some fun.”

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