Cruz named new head coach at Ball State
As his impressive rise up the coaching ranks in men’s collegiate volleyball took its biggest step to date officially on Wednesday, Donan Cruz remembered where his journey began.
Cruz, a 2001 Baldwin High School graduate, was announced as the new coach at Ball State University on the school’s athletic website on Wednesday.
“I can’t say enough about it, man,” Cruz said via phone Wednesday of his Maui upbringing after moving here from Guam at the age of 14. “My wife and I talk about this idea that when you’re in a position like us and fortunate enough to empower young adults, and mentor young adults, we’re doing that on behalf of a lot of people.
“How I do my job is a lot about who I am and where I’m from. To be able share with people, like, ‘Hey, where are you from?’ It means the world to say I’m from Maui.”
Cruz said it was a whirlwind courtship to take over at the NCAA Division I school in Muncie, Ind., after the retirement of 23-year veteran Joel Walton, who led the Cardinals to a 415-237 record in his tenure.
Cruz is just the fourth head coach in program history.
“It’s been a busy few weeks, what feels like almost a month, just getting to know the community at Ball State,” Cruz said.
Cruz leaves Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he started the men’s program in 2011. He compiled a 212-55 record at the NAIA school, including a 26-0 run to the national title in 2021.
“There has always been a passion in my interest to coach at what some people would consider the next level within intercollegiate athletics,” Cruz said. “Everything about Ball State men’s volleyball, the history that they are known for, the direction of our director of athletics Beth Goetz kind of has in mind for the future of the program — all that’s what drew me in and that has been such an exciting process to go through.”
Cruz also led Grand View to the NAIA national crown in 2018, the third straight season the Vikings reached the championship match. In addition, he guided GVU to three other national semifinal appearances (2014, 2015, 2019).
“We are excited to welcome Donan and his family to the Ball State community,” Goetz said in a statement on the school website. “Donan has proven himself as one of the top coaches in the game, building the Grand View program from the ground up and developing it into a perennial national powerhouse. His work ethic and commitment to developing his student-athletes on and off the court make him the perfect fit to lead our program.”
Cruz is in the process of moving from Iowa to Indiana with wife Anna and their sons Nixon, 6, and Nevon, 3. The couple is expecting their third child in August.
“The opportunity that I’m in and the role that I get to serve as head coach, now the head coach at Ball State, I get to be an extension of all the other people that have impacted my life, whether through coaching or advisors growing up,” Cruz said. “To be able to have that and share that, say it out loud to the current team and to share that with recruits and parents, it’s meaningful to me.
“I’m not just here for me and my family. … I want to share with people out here what the culture and the lifestyle is from people back home. That means a lot to me, man.”
Cruz was “glued to the TV” as he watched the University of Hawaii win the NCAA title last month, led by Mauian Colton Cowell. Cruz was in the stands at the Pyramid in Long Beach, Calif., in 2019 when the Rainbow Warriors lost the NCAA championship match to Long Beach State.
“Volleyball is different to the people in the islands,” Cruz said. “My pride to watch that team play this year, my heart was pounding the whole time. It was truly awesome to see.”
Cruz would love to schedule a match with UH in the future. His Grand View team played UH in Manoa in 2017, a match Hawaii won in a sweep.
“You know, I will get to Muncie here in a couple of days,” Cruz said. “I’m sure Coach (Charlie) Wade has a lot of exciting things he’s trying to enjoy right now in the moment. I’m sure we’ll work on connecting on something, but for now I want to just go one step at a time and kind of let things fall where they may.”
Cruz hopes his story will show young Mauians what is possible.
“I hope that through your storytelling, either a coach that’s in it right now or an aspiring younger coach might find some commonalities in our story and, you know, serve as some motivation.” Cruz said. “I will send some good vibes out to the people that are thinking about all of this.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.