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Spring Stars: Amphi's Bryan Cruz waiting out coronavirus from family's ranch following stellar volleyball career
High school spring stars

Spring Stars: Amphi's Bryan Cruz waiting out coronavirus from family's ranch following stellar volleyball career

The Star is profiling Southern Arizona high school athletes whose seasons were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. Each high school was asked to nominate an exceptional spring sport athlete who exemplifies greatness on and off the field, court or track.

Bryan Cruz joined Amphitheater High School’s boys volleyball team in the spring of 2018. It didn’t take long for him to make an impression.

Cruz was new to the school and team that year, a transfer student out of Cucurpe, Sonora. Cruz was born in Tucson, but moved to his family’s ranch in Mexico as a child. He returned to Tucson as a sophomore and enrolled at Amphi.

Cruz’s caring nature captured his coach’s attention almost immediately, and his skill on the court was soon apparent. Cruz was named player of the match during the Panthers’ second game of the season, and earned it six more times over the next few seasons before the coronavirus halted play in early March.

“First and foremost, he is a true student-athlete,” said Amphi volleyball coach Mike Frederick, who believes Cruz is one of the best volleyball players in the region. “He may be the most underappreciated player in the city. … But to us, he is everything. Not only is he our leader on the court but off the court as well.”

Cruz has been a Class 5A Southern Region honorable mention selection the last two years. Frederick says given the outside hitter’s quality of play, that wasn’t enough.

And while Cruz is an exceptional player, his coach says he’s an even better human being.

“I have known Bryan for three years and I can say without a doubt, he is the nicest, most compassionate student I know,” Frederick said. “As our team captain, Bryan epitomizes the meaning of ‘be kind.’ As a coach, I could not be prouder of Bryan. He is the perfect role model for our team, school and community.”

Cruz had no idea that Amphi’s 3-0 loss to rival Flowing Wells on March 11 would be his last of the season. Or with his team, or even the last competitive game he’d likely play.

Bryan Cruz was a 5A Southern Region honorable mention selection twice.

Cruz is headed to the UA in the fall to study engineering, but has no immediate plans to play volleyball at the school.

“I want to join a club, but it’s expensive,” Cruz said. “I’ve been playing volleyball since I was like 6 years old, but I didn’t actually start really practicing until I was 14.”

Cruz admits it will be tough to step away. But it might not be entirely over just yet.

“Every year we organize a tournament here in my town,” Cruz said. “It’s not a big tournament, but we play just for fun.”

Cruz returned to his family’s ranch in Cucurpe in mid-March after the state suspended — and then canceled — the rest of the school year. Since then, Cruz has been under coronavirus-related restrictions similar to those in Tucson, with Cucurpe regulating large gatherings and nonessential travel.

“I can’t go out and have a reunion with my friends,” Cruz said, adding that Cucurpe was also not allowing people to come and go frequently.

Cruz returned to Tucson on Monday to graduate. Amphi separated the senior class into smaller groups and held ceremonies over the course of four evenings.

Cruz was grateful for the opportunity to walk at graduation, but still missed out on a traditional graduation — along with prom and his volleyball team’s senior night.

“And all the other memories that we can make together,” Cruz said.

Still, he’s been making the most of his time off, and enjoying some extra time with his family before he returns to Tucson in the fall.

“I’m working out every day,” Cruz said. “I do my homework online and help my mom with all the ranch stuff.”

Cucurpe feeds his family’s cows, horses and chickens. It’s a very different lifestyle than he’ll experience in the fall, when he’s hitting the books to prepare for his career in engineering.

Coach Mike Frederick says Cruz “may be the most underappreciated player in the city.”

Cruz says he’s grateful for the opportunity, and to everyone who’s played a role along the way.

“I love Amphi High School because it helps its students,” Cruz said. “Especially students from other countries.”

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at cschmidt@tucson.com or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlincschmidt.

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