Spotlight on Gopher volleyball

 

SOECharlesHallmansquareIt’s a rare sight in Big Ten volleyball, especially at Minnesota. The Gophers this season has three of the five players of color are Black.

Fifth-year senior Toni Alugbue played at Notre Dame (2011-2014) missed her senior season last year after she tore her ACL in her left knee during preseason practice, and missed the entire 2014 season.

Nonetheless Alugbue made the ACC Academic Honor Roll, and graduated from the school’s Mendoza College of Business with a management consulting degree.

Before her injury, Alugbue played two years as outside hitter after playing middle blocker as a freshman. She was named All-American her sophomore year (2012) and led Notre Dame in kills her junior year (2013).

Toni Alugbue
Toni Alugbue

The ACL injury that wiped out her final year with the Irish “gave her insight into her body,” recalled Alugbue. The injury also resulted in her studying kinesiology in graduate school at Minnesota last season.

“It definitely was a school decision” to come to Minnesota besides playing her final year of athletic eligibility. “I know I wanted to pursue a degree in the sport science program, and I wanted to play at a very competitive level. I visited Minnesota and everything worked our academically.”

Before her injury, Alugbue mainly relied on her athletic talent. “I did whatever I had to do to score a point,” she points out. “Now I realize that you have to have the right approach and make the right move on defense. I think I learned the little details of the game, and learning how to help my teammates in a verbal manner.”

According to U-M Coach Hugh McCutcheon, this is exactly what makes Alugbue — despite having only a season left to play this season — so valuable for the Gophers. “It’s great to have someone of Toni’s experience,” he told the MSR. “She’s a wonderful volleyball player and a great person.”

“I am trying to give the girls my best input as much as possible,” noted the 22-year-old senior outside hitter. “I don’t really feel the age gap.”

Alugbue joins Daly Santana as the team’s only seniors.

Daly Santana, left, and Dalianliz Rosado
Daly Santana, left, and Dalianliz Rosado

“Don’t remind me,” says Santana, jokingly. “It’s been really fast. It’s was the best three and a half years of my life.” She currently leads the team in kills.

“It’s certainly bittersweet because she’s had a great time here,” said McCutcheon, Santana’s only college coach. The outside hitter from Puerto Rico will complete her college playing career before she turns 21 in February, and plans to graduate next year with a youth studies degree.

“It’s wonderful that she is going to graduate, and we want her to have a wonderful post-graduate career,” added the coach.

“I’m going to miss her,” said sophomore libero and fellow Puerto Rican Dalianliz Rosado of Santana.

Rosado has settled in as a Gopher starter — last season she played in 31 matches and 108 sets, as well as in Minnesota. “It’s been good,” she pointed out. “I think I am doing better in school. I took summer classes.”

Taylor Morgan
Taylor Morgan

Taylor Morgan and Kayla Buford are among the four first-year players on the Minnesota roster this season.

Buford, a 2015 Canton (Mich.) High School graduate said the Twin Cities reminds her of home, which is outside Detroit. “I’ve been able to explore different places. I like it. The more I’m here, the happier [I am] about my decision” on choosing Minnesota for college.

Morgan, who graduated from Blaine High School, will miss this season due to an injury suffered last month. The six-foot middle blocker is a bit undersized for collegiate volleyball but she makes up for it with her jumping ability.

“I know that I am not [the tallest] — I was the tallest in high school but not as tall coming here. I just have to work hard,” said Morgan prior to her injury.

“We’re working real hard to be closer as a team,” concluded Santana of this year’s squad.

The five players of color are featured in this week’s Sports Odds and Ends.

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.