Forward Kristina Santiago doesn’t settle for anything.
“Since I (was) little, that’s kind of the way I’ve been raised,” Santiago said. “Not only sports, but life, you can always do better. You can always strive for more.”
“Striving for more” is exactly what she’s done.
The 2009-2010 Big West Player of the Year has racked up a remarkable athletic career during her time at Cal Poly. Her 19.6 points-per-game average last season helped her become the fourth-leading scorer in school history. She is also one of only six Mustang athletes in history to record over 400 points during a single season, which she accomplished during the 2008-2009 season when she was only a sophomore.
However, this is not enough for the 6-foot-1-inch kinesiology senior who dreams of moving forward with her basketball career after she graduates from Cal Poly.
“I want to keep playing basketball,” Santiago said. “I’ve definitely thought about (going to the WNBA). I’ve been contacted by an agent that thinks I have potential to play for the WNBA, so we’ll see. He said the main thing was my size and that I’m very versatile.”
Until then, Santiago is concentrating on helping the Mustangs make it to the NCAA championships.
“I expect us to get to the NCAA tournament, especially since it’s never happened before,” she said. “We’ve always been right there, but this is definitely the year we need to get that. It’s my ultimate goal while (I’m still) here.”
As she works toward her ultimate goal, Santiago is hoping to make final improvements in the offseason because no matter how she plays on the court, Santiago believes she still has much more to work on.
“My rebounding improved from last year, but I still think I can do better,” Santiago said. “(I want to) crash harder. I definitely want to focus on (that) and to discipline myself. Ball-handling (is something) I want to improve on, too.”
Santiago said her perfectionist attitude stemmed from her parents and the way she was raised. As a child, Santiago said she started playing basketball later than most kids and had to play “catch up” athletically.
“I was really good when I started playing, so a lot of people kept pushing me to keep doing better and playing and getting into club basketball,” Santiago said.
Growing up, Santiago said her father and brothers were the ones who introduced her to the sport and she idolizes them for their help. Her father, Tony Santiago, said he always saw that drive in Kristina and the love of the game in her eyes.
“(Kristina is) focused, determined and smart,” Tony Santiago said. “It shows in her game and how she plays. She is very intelligent out there on the court.”
She also looks up to two of her former teammates, Lisa McBride and Megan Harrison, who, when the three of them played together, were dubbed as the “Big Three.” McBride remembers playing with Santiago and how devoted she was to basketball.
“She has so much passion for the game,” McBride said. “You can always count on her. I’ll throw her passes and she’ll catch them; she’s always there.”
Women’s basketball head coach Faith Mimnaugh, who has coached Santiago since the beginning of her Cal Poly career, has seen her basketball skills improve and become more diverse throughout the years. She said her perimeter skills have blossomed since she first arrived.
“When she first came (to Cal Poly), she was pretty right-handed,” Mimnaugh said. “She spends quite a bit of time practicing ball-handling skills to operate around opponents. (That way), she has more confidence when she goes to play (rivals).”
Mimnaugh also said Santiago could be the best women’s basketball player to have come through the program.
“From an offensive stand point, I do think Kristina is the best player we have worked with at Cal Poly,” Mimnaugh said. “From the record stand point, Kristina is chasing her records.”
As far as records go, she definitely has the abilities and talent to own almost every record in the book, Mimnaugh said.
Furthermore, Santiago’s performance on the hardwood parallels her leadership skills. She strives to help her team in any way possible.
“Being a leader is a really big thing for me; finding that balance between a teammate and being a captain,” Santiago said. “(I have to try) to do what’s best for the team and really discipline myself to stay focused on that goal. I think good leaders, good captains, are keys to winning. You have to have that discipline and the people that push everyone to get better and set the standards.”
Leading by example is a very important commitment for Santiago, but said she has a hard time fulfilling this duty when she is injured and forced to sit out.
“When I get hurt, that’s definitely the hardest,” Santiago said. “I even sat out earlier this year because I was having knee issues. It’s really hard (to sit on) the sidelines to try to help people and tell (them) what to do. You don’t really have that credibility (anymore).”
Regardless, Santiago goes all-out when it comes to her teammates. Together, the chemistry is definitely there, Santiago said.
“It sounds cliché, but we’re a family,” Santiago said. “We go over and beyond for each other. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Yet, the close relationship does sometimes get in the way of the game. This is where her responsibility as a captain steps in.
“The biggest thing with our team is holding each other accountable,” Santiago said. “It is hard to call out people if you don’t see them trying as hard or running as hard. I think that’s where the whole captain and leader thing comes in. But everyone knows at the end of the day, we love each other.”
As far as basketball goes, Santiago doesn’t plan on quitting anytime soon. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but she anticipates that basketball will stay with her for a very long time.
“Basketball is one of my (future) plans,” Santiago said. “I want to keep playing for as long as I can.”