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.
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.
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.”
Spring Stars: Some of Southern Arizona's best high school athletes, 2019-2020
Leo and Ivan Villa
Refugio "Kito" Del Cid
Cheyenne Hudson and Laneya Wright
High School Senior voices
My senior year started off as any other normal school year, I got to know my teachers and what type of teacher they were, I made new friends and met up with old ones and it was great. When it was fall break everything went downhill because of the virus. I wanted to have prom, be able to do my senior walk, participate in all of the “last time” things before going off into the real world, and of course graduate. Graduation means to me that I accomplished something that was very difficult and I can do it. Not having a graduation has been hard. I have been trying to stay positive and hope that everything in the future will be great and get a lot better.
Daniela Molina, Sunnyside High School
Jessica Guzman, Sunnyside High School
Ricardo Caro, Sunnyside High School
Valerie Flores, Sunnyside High School
Enrique Carlos, Sunnyside High School
Quiriat Rosas, Desert View High School
Jaylen Pallanes, Desert View High School
Jenifer Maldonado, Desert View High School
Veronica Reyna-Fierro, Desert View High School
Samantha Hawkins, Desert View High School
Ysenia Dorame, Desert View High School
Michelle Villegas, Amphitheater High School
Graduation is an event every incoming freshman looks forward to, an event where all our hard work proves to be worth it. We gather up and celebrate an accomplishment with all our family, friends and the teachers who helped us get there. The seniors of 2020 are having that taken from them. Due to the circumstances our families and teachers are doing the best they can to fill that empty feeling all seniors are feeling around the world. As a graduating senior from Amphitheater High School here is my story.
Graduation has always been very important to me and my parents. In our Hispanic family I can’t say there are many high school graduates, throughout my whole four years of high school I kept reminding myself I wasn’t only doing it for my future, but for my family, and to prove all stereotypes wrong. Despite our ceremony being short and limited to family members, I’m entirely grateful my family is well. Sure, it might not be the graduation I dreamed about or the celebration, but no one can take away the late nights, the hard studying, the early morning drives, the laughs, the stress, that lead to my well-earned diploma. At the end of the day I made my mark along with all my classmates.
This pandemic has taken many lives. Many people were taken away from their families. I honor them. It might not be much, but I dedicate my diploma to all the families who have suffered a loss during the pandemic, my diploma goes to all the children who passed in past school shootings and during the pandemic, who were not only robbed from their future graduation, but from their families and life.
Rebekah Shumway, Cienega High School
Graduation to me is a time of reflection, a great milestone in one’s life. In this time of reflection, one can see how or what they have become, the growth and hardships they have endured. Graduation can mean changing your lifestyle and preparing you for the world.
We are graduating in a pandemic, many are going through hard times, I believe that this has become a positive thing for students.
Graduation has become overlooked. Due to this pandemic, students are able to feel more appreciative of all their hard work as well as a knowledge of how to handle things when they feel out of control.
I am now celebrating graduation by enjoying the extra time I get to spend with my family.
My hope is to attend BYU for the fall semester. I am thinking about going into nursing.
As a young adult I am also planning on gaining more independence, and paying rent, as a way to help me transition into the world.
COVID-19 has brought sadness to many. However this was God’s plan, and “… he shall prepare a way for them …” (1 Nephi 3:7).
Olivia Holloway, Mountain View High School
Although this pandemic did cancel events I was looking forward to and kept family members from visiting, I have learned to stay positive. My school decided to have each student come in at a particular time to receive their diploma and have five minutes on a well-crafted stage to take photos. I am still able to work during this time and I am truly grateful for that. What I want people to learn from this experience is that perspective is everything. Looking at the downside will not make this time any easier. As do many things, this will soon pass.
Sienna Benitez, Amphitheater High School
Ayla Clare, Marana High School
Mariela Arroyo, Cienega High School
Nayeli Ramirez, Cienega High School
Samiya Howard, Cienega High School
During my time at Cienega I was a football manager as well as a link crew leader and also president of the diversity alliance club for two years and Cienega’s first-year girls rugby team co-captain. My senior year of high school didn’t go as planned, but while it lasted I enjoyed the company of my friends and all our crazy adventures through our senior year.
Although I didn’t get my senior prom or graduation, I can say that Cienega has done so much to help my family during the pandemic as well as the staff making sure the seniors leave with a bang. In September of 2013 I suffered the loss of my 5-year-old brother due to asthma. I have been back and forth in the care of my mother and my grandmother. So when my mother wasn’t able to I was with my grandmother who had raised me and installed the wisdom and faith I have as well as my mother did.
Being in Arizona has clarified what I wanted to do after high school. And that goal is following my acceptance to Pima Community College. I will begin my studies to become an emergency medical technician and claim my certifications to accomplish my goal and make my grandmother and mother proud.
Brianna Morgan, Cienega High School
Octavio Robledo, Marana High School
Xander Lyions, Marana High School
Vanessa Silva, Sunnyside High School
Jessica Vasquez Espinoza, Sunnyside High School
Amelia Rico, Sunnyside High School
During this quarantine a lot has changed. Education is one of the things that has changed the most. Many students — soon-to-be-graduates — are stressing out because of the assignments being sent to them via Google Classroom. The teaching format has changed because usually in class you are present, ready to learn and have specific time to finish an assignment. But at home you feel like you have all the time. In reality you end up more stressed because you didn’t use time wisely. Many students don’t understand the topic or the assignments given by teachers, some teachers don’t specify what they expect in each assignment, and it makes it harder for students to succeed. We hope that we go back to school and that the COVID-19 situation goes away. Being at home and doing schoolwork at the same time is hard for many students due to laziness. At school students would at least try, but now most of them decide not to. Everyone is stressed because they can’t go anywhere and they are stuck at home. It is up to all of us to contribute so that this ends and we return to school. If we continue without following the guidelines, the quarantine will be extended. It has been a very frustrating time for everyone, students and teachers especially. If we all try to contribute with everything, it can be an easier task for teachers to continue with the lessons and for students to learn.
Hannia Paez, Sunnyside High School
Valeria Mendoza, Sunnyside High School
Yesenia Meraz, Sunnyside High School
Anakaren Lugo, Sunnyside High School
Cesar Lopez, Sunnyside High School
Hattie Judd, Sunnyside High School
The abrupt end to the school year has a huge impact on its students, especially seniors. Many end-of-the-year opportunities and events are lost and can not be rescheduled. Time goes on and we will not be seniors again. This is quite upsetting to think about. Essential everyday things such as twice-daily meals are ended as well. I understand some schools give out meals, but not everyone has the transportation to go and get those items. School was the only option for me and others for a healthy breakfast and lunch. They are definitely not gourmet-style meals but it is much better than the food that is offered at home. At home, I do not have the luxury of choices such as fresh fruit or fresh food as the food I end up eating is microwave dinners. When I would go to school I would have time set in my schedule to eat breakfast and lunch. At home it is all up to me. Living in a single-parent household where the parent works long hours is tough, but while others have the option to not work during the COVID-19 outbreak, my dad does not. He ends up working longer hours than before. It then gets hard to go to the grocery store to buy food that would last for at least a month’s supply.
Genesis Jimenez, Sunnyside High School
Daniel Garcia, Sunnyside High School
Evelyn Franco, Sunnyside High School
Mylin Fleming, Sunnyside High School
Keila Connor, Sunnyside High School
Clarissa Moraga, Sunnyside High School
Angelina Sinohui, Sunnyside High School
Mary Drake, Cienega High School
Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlincschmidt.