Kristina Santiago, the Mustang women’s basketball standout forward, became the fourth-leading scorer in school history with a 22-point performance against Cal State Bakersfield. The conference’s leading scorer has helped propel her team to the Mustang’s second-best start in program history this season.
While head coach Faith Mimnaugh attributed much of her team’s success to her junior’s leadership, Santiago’s success stems from her strive for perfection.
“I am kind of one of those people who is never really satisfied,” Santiago said. “You can always be better.”
In her first game against Cal State Bakersfield, she posted 28 points. What was an impressive performance to others, was a flawed day to her. Even with the impressive point total, Santiago found faults with her performance.
“I don’t think I would ever say I had a great game, I mean, I only had six boards (against Cal State Bakersfield),” Santiago said.
Her perfectionist work ethic was evident since she started playing in fifth grade. Her brothers and dad “always pushed her in everything,” and she was constantly trying to keep up with them. That same attitude is still present today.
“Basically there’s always room for improvement,” Santiago said.
Mimnaugh said that her work ethic is what makes Santiago not only a great player but also a great leader on the court. It all came together in Cal Poly’s overtime victory against Cal State Fullerton. Santiago played every minute of the game and scored a career-high 34 points. She had to focus especially hard mentally to seal the victory.
“At one point I thought, ‘Suck it up, you got this, keep going,’” she said. “I got a steal right away for a breakaway lay-up.”
Junior guard Rachel Clancy said the Fullerton game showed how mentally prepared Santiago is in clutch situations.
“She’s always consistent,” Clancy said. “But that game she made big scores at big times.”
As the season has continued, Santiago has anchored the Mustangs in the key. Nearly scoring at will, she has quickly made her run into the top-five scorers of all time. Santiago currently stands in fourth place and is just under 250 points from third.
“It’s a really cool honor; I’m pretty proud to be in that category,” Santiago said. “But it wouldn’t mean as much to me if we had a losing record.”
Santiago is valuable to the team not only as a scorer, but as an all-around threat and team player. Santiago’s versatility comes through in her stats. In the Big West Conference, she is ranked second in rebounds, fourth in field goals and third in minutes.
“She knows she’s gifted, but she’s more down for the team winning,” Mimnaugh said.
When someone scores double digits in every game during the season, like Santiago has, it does not go unnoticed. She is 16th in scoring in Division-1 women’s basketball and her opponents know it, Mimnaugh said. Double and triple teams on Santiago have forced her to diversify not only her scoring, but the rest of her game as well.
“She’s doing everything for us. It’s been exciting for me to coach her,” Mimnaugh said. “When she came to us, she was pretty much a post player. She’s tried to develop her perimeter skills and can now score in a number of different ways.”
Clancy and Santiago’s teammates have also been forced to improve and adjust as their opponents have tried shutting Santiago down. A double or triple team on Santiago often provides the opportunity for a player to get open for a shot, and the team has been working on taking advantage of such opportunities.
Roles have definitely changed and stuck as the season progressed, Clancy said. As the team has improved, each member knows her job and what she needs to do to make the team work optimally.
“With all the team, they’ll say they don’t care about their individual performance,” Clancy said. “It’s all about the team and the win.”
In Santiago’s eyes, she plays alongside teammates who share her same work ethic.
“I would say our team is incredibly hard working,” Santiago said. “Whether (the team) is having a good game or a bad game, you know at the end of the day those people are going to be there tomorrow, working their butts off in the gym.”
The Mustangs look for their hard work to pay off in the form of a championship.
“We want that championship so bad this year; it would be the biggest upset for our team if we didn’t get it — we are definitely working for it,” Santiago said.
-Brian De Los Santos contributed to this article