Hot in Iowa: Cruz leads No. 1 Grand View
Baldwin graduate has guided diverse Vikings, the top-ranked team in NAIA, to 12-0 record
Donan Cruz was enjoying the 42-degree temperature outdoors in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday afternoon.
“The weather has been brutal, but it’s 42 today and it feels like 75,” the 2001 Baldwin High School graduate said from his office at Grand View University. “So we’ve been going crazy. … We got hit hard, it was cold, cold for a while.”
Cruz is the coach of the Vikings men’s volleyball team, the No. 1-ranked team in the NAIA who has a road match against Graceland University today in Lamoni, Iowa.
Cruz is a graduate of Graceland, where he played volleyball, but he has made his mark in the game as a coach for Grand View.
This season the Vikings are 12-0 with a set record of 36-4.
“For me personally and our team, I think it’s just a testament to the amount of work we’ve put into our craft, not only on the court, but things that I think college athletes have to work through as they’re kind of figuring things out in their personal lives,” Cruz said. “I think sometimes even for me as a fan of other collegiate sports you forget how much athletes have to juggle.”
Cruz knows the No. 1 ranking comes with some added pressure, like it or not.
“I think the pressures to perform and uphold the standards as a college student and then also have to execute on the court, for me to be able to see some of the results that the team is getting is I think really good for everyone because it keeps us motivated,” Cruz said. “I don’t think it’s a notoriety that is, like, ‘Oh, cool, you can lay off.’ I think it’s the opposite, like, we have to continually show up every day and be responsible.
“Being able to be recognized by your peers — because those are coaches voting on those type of things — that’s nice, but probably not the centerpiece of conversations in our gym, but definitely something I’m sure our guys are aware of.”
The Vikings roster includes players from Italy, Vietnam, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Cuba and seven different states — there are a pair of players from Waianae, Oahu, in Diesel Tuinei and Blaze Kahikina.
“It’s a lot of fun, it comes with a lot of learning and a lot of opportunity to educate yourself about different cultures and appreciate what everybody brings,” Cruz said. “Obviously me as someone that is from Hawaii, it’s like, is that any different from what you’re used to walking around and growing up around? So, I would like to say when you think about that and it’s definitely a loaded roster of guys from all over the place, but to me that is just something that is our nature, is to have that diverse melting pot.”
Cruz grew up in Guam before moving to Maui and attending Baldwin.
“I think the upbringing and the comfort level of being around diverse groups is something that has helped me out to coach this type of group,” Cruz said. “And every year does change — this is our first time we’ve had an Italian and being able to kind of blend that into our training styles and seeing what else he can bring in, what we can learn from him, but overall it’s a lot of fun.”
Maui and Baldwin run deep in his coaching roots. He pointed to several restaurant jobs he had growing up on Maui to helping develop his persona.
“Significantly, I think for me my purpose has always been to share some of what my personal philosophies are, too,” Cruz said. “I think growing up in a place like Guam and in Maui is like you have to be very well equipped with understanding on how to deal with different people from all over the world. I had so many different jobs when I was growing up in the summers and on Oahu, too.”
Cruz also credits his parents — mom Bernie San Nicolas Lopez, stepdad Vincent Lopez, and dad Rodney Cruz — with much of his coaching ability.
Before the 2020 season was halted in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic with GVU at 22-1, Cruz guided the Vikings to the NAIA National Invitational Championship match in three straight years (2016-18) and three other semifinal appearances (2014, 2015, 2019).
In 2018, the Vikings captured the school’s first national championship. Cruz has been named national NAIA coach of the year three times by the AVCA (2014, 2015, 2017).
He has lifted the Grand View program since being hired in 2011, coaching six All-Americans and two NAIA national players of the year.
He would love to add a Maui Interscholastic League player to the mix. He had Justyn Kuhaulua-Feiteira for a single season in 2013 before he left GVU for a culinary school.
“For me that would be awesome … but you know it’s always just about the match, does it make sense for the athlete, between the athlete and the family, is what we have to offer something worth making their way all the way here to the Midwest?” Cruz said. “I’m always looking and I’m always open-minded and that would mean a lot to me to be able to land a player coming out of the MIL.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.