Senior outside hitter Leyre Santaella Sante became a Hurricane because she wanted more out of her volleyball career. A standout player in her home country of Puerto Rico and her previous university, she came to Miami hungry for competition. At this point in her UM experience, she seems to be satiated.
Santaella Sante was born in Condado and raised in San Juan. Although she feels that San Juan shares a lot in common with Miami, her hometown still holds a special place in her heart.
“It’s big, there’s a lot of traffic, I just love it,” she said. “My family is there…it’s just everything I know.”
Santaella Sante is very close to her family, which includes three brothers. Athletics runs in the family, as her older brothers played basketball, swam, and ran, and her younger brother is looking to play collegiate volleyball in the U.S. when he graduates high school next year.
Santaella Sante had an early start in sports as well.
“I started playing volleyball when I was ten. My mom decided to put me in sports because she thought I was a little hyper,” Santaella Sante said. “She tried ballet and then that didn’t work out.”
In addition to lettering in all four years at Academia Maria Reina and playing on the Puerto Rican Youth National Team when she was 14, Santaella Sante was also member of the Borinquen Coqui club team from the ages of 10 to 15, subsequently joining the Puerto Rican National Team. She traveled to places like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the United States for matches. Her trip to the Dominican was among her most memorable.
“You got to see a lot of a different environments, like the poor side of things,” she said. “When you go there, you get to appreciate everything you have and everything you’ve done.”
After graduating high school, Santaella Sante began her career at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. She enjoyed her first two years there, but decided as a junior that she didn’t feel in her element anymore.
“I felt I deserved to play against higher-quality teams, teams that would make me get better,” she said. “I totally feel volleyball is about fun. If you’re doing something that you’re not having fun in, it’s pointless.”
From there, Santaella Sante set out to find the perfect blend of competitive volleyball, a caring team, and a nice location. She is certainly content with the decision.
“[UM] is a different environment. I like it because I get to prove myself,” she said. “I get to show everyone that didn’t believe in me that I can do it…I’m just going to give my best all the time.”
The coaching staff, as well as the players, were instrumental in Santaella Sante’s transition into life as a Hurricane. She is the team’s first senior transfer since the resurrection of the program in 2001.
“[The coaches] helped me a lot,” she said. “I thought it was going to be really hard to prove myself to them, but since I got here they trusted me and believed that I could do the job…and just be part of their team.”
The addition of Santaella Sante should give the ‘Canes a chance to advance deep in the NCAA Tournament. She was awarded the Atlantic Sun Conference’s Player of the Year while at UCF in 2002 and was tournament MVP of the Atlantic Sun Championship two years in a row.
Santaella Sante now faces the challenge of proving herself in the Big East. But this time, she is going to make sure she enjoys herself no matter what happens.
“Here, I know that all my teammates are good,” Santaella Sante said. “I know that they’re going to do their job and I know that they’re going to be there for me. That is one of the reasons that makes it fun.”
Melissa Teich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org