By Patrick Lujan
From corn tatiyas to corn fields. From historic Inalahan to Des Moines, Iowa.
It’s the anomalous path the sport of volleyball has taken 28-year-old Donan Cruz.
The southern village is known for its long list of successful players and coaches and Cruz is making sure that he adds to the village legacy. Cruz proposed, developed and now is the head coach of the Grand View Vikings men’s volleyball team in Des Moines, a NAIA Division I program.
“My volleyball interest sparked when I was at Inarajan Middle School. I thought it was super fun,” Cruz said from his residence in Iowa. “I always had solid coaching starting with Peter Tedtaotao to Jim Reyes and Mike Rabago then moved to Hawaii and played under Kamu Whilhelm.”
Cruz was part of the 1997 and 1999 boys volleyball championship teams at Southern High School along with the likes of Josh Mesa and John Paul Taimanglo before moving to Hawaii his junior year.
After playing and graduating from Graceland University (Iowa) in 2006, Cruz found himself back in the state after a short stint working in Hawaii and for the past three years he’s been an assistant coach for the women’s volleyball team.
It was in 2010 when Cruz drafted up a plan and proposed to the university to start up the school’s first ever men’s volleyball team. In Iowa, women’s volleyball is much bigger than men’s. In fact, there’s no boys high school volleyball in Iowa.
“There’s no comparison,” Cruz said about how big women’s volleyball is in the state. “There’s basically no boys volleyball in Iowa so we can’t even recruit from our own backyard.”
After his proposal was made, which included a grant award from USA Volleyball, the decision was swift and favorable and the recruiting began in January 2011.
“As a first-year program, there are so many disadvantages and we didn’t know how our recruiting would go, but we’re definitely pleased with the recruiting. We have two guys from Puerto Rico, four from Hawaii and a couple from the Chicago area. We also have a Division I transfer from California.”
All that hard work is paying off as Cruz and the Vikings get ready to set sail for their first official game later this month.
“This is my dream job. I didn’t anticipate I could get to where I’m at this quickly.”
Two words explains Cruz’s feelings on Iowa weather in January: “It sucks. Today was horrible. I tell recruits it gets cold, but it only stays cold four months out of the year. But you get used to things. I wish it was always warm.”
Cruz said when he first got to Iowa as a player in 2004 it was -10 degrees.
With his array of volleyball contacts throughout the country, Cruz hopes to come back and hold a clinic sometime soon.
“I’d like to go back to Guam and host some clinics and bring some coaches with me from some of the bigger universities,” Cruz said. “I would love to get a guy from Guam on our roster. Part of the process is, you got to market yourself as an athlete, too. I’m willing to help them out with the networking that I have.”
As for higher aspirations as a coach and possibly leading a NCAA Division I school, Cruz simply said, “maybe.”
Notes: Legendary coach Blaine Afaisen was his 5th grade teacher at M.U. Lujan Elementary…Afaisen’s father and Cruz’s grandmother are cousins…plans to play for Guam in the 2015 Pacific Games…played on a three-year scholarship at Graceland University and graduated with a degree in Marketing Communications…got his coaching career started as the men’s coach at the University of Hawaii Lab School….interested coaches and players can contact Donan at email@example.com – he’d like to hear from you.