Sports Odds & Ends
There are approximately 100 African Americans and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2021-22 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players. This week: Gopher volleyball players Arica Davis and Naya Gros
The 2022 Minnesota Gophers volleyball roster has seven transfers. Middle blockers Arica Davis from Ohio State and Naya Gros, a Michigan State graduate now attending graduate school, are both among the first-year players, along with four true first-year players.
Both Davis and Gros are Southern natives as well as Big Ten veterans.
Gros (New Orleans) played four seasons at State, where she led the Spartans in blocks per set for each of the past four seasons. She had her best season in 2021 when she finished fifth in the conference and 18th nationally in total blocks and blocks per set. A journalism major, the 6-3 Gros is studying sports management for her advanced degree at Minnesota.
The 5-11 Davis (Hillsborough, North Carolina) in her freshman year at Ohio State played in 33 matches as the Buckeyes reached the Sweet 16. Both told the MSR after a recent match that Minnesota is the best place for them to continue their volleyball careers.
“The Big Ten is the best conference,” said Gros, “and that just so happens to be in the Midwest where it snows a lot. But if you want to be the best, you’ve got to compete against the best, and so that’s why I decided to come here despite the cold.” The NCAA gave all athletes an extra year of eligibility because the pandemic shut down a season, and Gros said she wanted to take advantage of it and play a fifth year of college ball.
Added Davis, who plans to major in biology, society and environment, “They’re [the Minnesota coaches] building me up to be a better player, and that’s what I’m looking for. She called the team culture “unbelievable. ”
“They’re good volleyball players, but they’re better humans,” noted Minnesota Coach Hugh McCutcheon on the two sistahs, “and we are just happy that they’re here.”
Said Gros, “I wanted to grow as a player and as an individual. I want to be coached by the best. I wanted to come to Minnesota [and] compete for a national championship. I felt that Minnesota was very high on that caliber list as far as going to the [NCAA] tournament and going far in the tournament.”
The night we talked to Gros and Davis, Minnesota hosted Pepperdine, who had only one Black player. Minnesota has four—redshirt sophomore Taylor Landfair, freshman Carter Booth, and the two transfers. Other than Indiana, who has zero Blacks, every Big Ten team has at least one Black player and some have as many as four.
Still, volleyball still lags in diversity: “I have seen the sport growing in diversity,” observed Gros. “I feel like accessibility is a big part of why you might not see a lot of African Americans playing volleyball.” But the lack of diversity isn’t because of not enough talented Black players, she added.
“It’s not about women of color not being able [to play],” argued Davis. “It’s about the opportunities that are given. I also think it’s about a shift in mindset, a shift in perspective.”
We asked what unique qualities these two sistahs bring to the Gophers.
“I’m a big energy person,” responded Davis. “I’m very vocal and I try to be as active as I can.”
Gros said, “I feel like being in the game for four years that I have the experience and I know what’s coming ahead. Just giving that knowledge out so maybe some of the younger players or some of the other girls [can benefit]. Just being a listening ear for them if they have questions. I want to be able to answer that for them.”
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MN isn’t the best in the Big 10 because it doesn’t have a national Championship. Wisconsin just one its 1st Nebraska has at least 2 and Penn State is tied with Stanford for the most national championships.
This year’s team has too many newcomers to seriously contend for a national championship. It has lots of talent, but it takes years to build the teamwork, to be a champion.
Its loss to Pepperdine shows it’s not a national championship contender.