Sweet senior night memories for Gopher volleyball stars

 

“Senior Night” — it’s typically scheduled on the team’s final home game of the regular season.

Such an occasion took place on Thanksgiving Eve, November 25, at the Gopher volleyball team’s regular season home finale for seniors Daly Santana and Toni Alugbue at the Sports Pavilion.

(l-r) Toni Alugbue and Daly Santana
(l-r) Toni Alugbue and Daly Santana

The two players were honored in a short post-match celebration following a hard-fought 3-2 win over Ohio State, Video tributes played on the Pavilion’s new scoreboard, and family and friends stood with them on the court afterwards.

“It was definitely emotional,” said Santana, who was still a bit overwhelmed by the attention. She is a four-year starter and leads the team in kills this season. “For that brief moment, you realize all the hard work we put into our careers; it’s pretty emotional, even after a win.”

For Alugbue, on the other hand, it was actually her second senior night in as many seasons. She graduated from Notre Dame last season, and joined the Gopher volleyball program last spring to finish her final year of eligibility. She is in graduate school at the U. Nonetheless, this senior night was still an emotional one for her. “It’s unreal,” said Alugbue. “The fans support us night in and night out. It’s awesome.”

Gopher Coach Hugh McCutcheon called both women “ambassadors” of the game and the school. He told the MSR, “We couldn’t have been more proud for the season they’ve had. They are great young women.”

But the season isn’t over for the newly crowned Big Ten champs — the school’s first title in 13 years as the Gophers (26-4) earned the NCAA automatic bid to this year’s field of 64. Both Santana and Alugbue said Minnesota is ready for the post-season, which starts this weekend.

“The Big Ten is tough and always prepares us for the match, even if we come out with the win or not,” stated Santana, a six-rotation athlete. She’s in the top 20 nationally in kills (15th) and points per set (18th). “I think every match is a tough match.”

“I liked that we were down (0-2) and we had to battle in the third set,” noted Alugbue on the come-from-behind victory over the visiting Buckeyes a week ago. That win clinched a share of the conference crown for Minnesota, and last Saturday won it outright with a 3-1 road win at Indiana. “That shows how mature we are as a team. It was good to end this night [with a win],” she added.

In a few months Santana will graduate from Minnesota — she will finish her college career before she turns 21 in February. “I’ve grown into this player here,” said the Puerto Rico native. “That’s pretty emotional for me.”

Though a bit older, the California-born Alugbue will soon earn a graduate degree in applied kinesiology in sport and exercise science. Her bachelor degree from Notre Dame is in management consulting. She said she will always remember “how much volleyball matters in the state of Minnesota, and female sports matter here [as well]. I am going to take that with me for the rest of my life.”

But first a little matter of competing for a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, the site of the 2015 NCAA Volleyball Final Four in mid-December.

“We are staying focus on what’s ahead of us,” said Santana.

The Gophers are 2nd seed and will host Jackson State Friday at 6:30 pm.

 

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