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From Hawaii to the heartland

Baldwin grad Cruz leads Grand View into series with UH volleyball team

Grand View coach Donan Cruz talks with his players during the Vikings’ season-opening win over Morningside College last week. GRAND VIEW UNIVERSITY photo

Donan Cruz grew up on two islands in the Pacific Ocean and has made his mark in Des Moines, Iowa.

This week, he has returned home as the coach of the Grand View University men’s volleyball team, which will play the University Hawaii on Friday and Sunday.

Cruz, a 2001 Baldwin High School graduate, started the men’s program at the small Iowa school. The Vikings (3-0) advanced to the NAIA tournament final last season in their fifth year of existence and moved up to the No. 1 ranking in the NAIA coaches poll on Tuesday.

UH (6-2) is currently ranked fifth in the NCAA Division I-II poll.

“It’s a huge deal personally for me — just the opportunity for our team and a few of our local guys and our staff — but we are super humbled by the invite coming out here,” said Cruz, who has four players from Hawaii on the roster and two more from Guam, where he was born and lived until he moved to Maui as a 15-year-old. “It’s going to be a big, big match for us as a program because obviously UH is a staple of men’s volleyball in the U.S.”

Cruz remembers watching the Rainbow Warriors as a young man.

“It’s definitely going to rank near the top, if not the top, volleyball experience for me,” Cruz said. “Because you grow up watching UH men’s volleyball all your life and watching people play in the Stan Sheriff, it’s a big deal. It’s kind of unreal at times. I couldn’t have imagined that with the program in Grand View where we’re at that we would have ever had this opportunity just because it’s so hard to schedule NCAA Division I opponents. Coach (Charlie) Wade was able to work it in with us.

“I just know when we get in the Stan Sheriff on Friday, it’s going to be a really cool memory for us.”

Savili Bartley, who is from Waianae and attended Kamehameha Kapalama, is a 6-foot-1 senior middle blocker for the Vikings. He has been part of two national semifinal teams and last season’s unit that fell to Missouri Baptist in the final.

Nearly all of the Vikings’ road trips use buses, not airplanes across the Pacific.

“It’s awesome just to be able to travel to my home with my teammates, with all my teammates here and just to get to show them somewhat our style of life,” Bartley said after a trip to Manoa Falls, where the team pounded poi among other activities.

Bartley, a biology major who wants to attend graduate school in Hawaii for marine biology, knows how special this week is for his coach.

“Honestly I think this is a real special moment for coach just because he started our men’s program and I’m pretty sure in the beginning he wasn’t thinking he would have people from Hawaii and Brazil and Guam,” Bartley said. “Just the fact that our program is growing and now we have the opportunity to play here at UH, it’s incredible — he is able to coach in his hometown.”

Cruz knows playing UH, which has 14 players on the roster who are 6-5 or taller compared to just four for Grand View, will be a monumental task.

“We’ve kind of inched our way a lot closer to winning the (NAIA) national championship,” Cruz said. “I know for this team that is a major motivation. … If you’re going to play a team that is nationally recognized in the Division I-II polls, I think there’s nothing but positives that is going to come from it. We’re going to value the opportunity and utilize that to see where we match up.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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