Nov. 14, 2007
By Terence Foy
And every time the 5-foot-10 offensive leader takes game matters into her own hands, the lesson becomes a little clearer to the fourth-year coach.
"She's not listening to me as much this year, but that's a good thing," said Hernandez, a setter herself in college. "Last year, she was looking to the sideline for instruction in nearly every situation. This year, I've pretty much given her the team and said `Go.' "
Cruz has responded.
Earlier this year, she broke her own school record for set assists in a season. Through the regular-season, Cruz has 1,381 assists and is second in the MAAC with a 11.14 assists per game average.
The Greyhounds' offensive attack has improved drastically since last year. All five of Loyola's primary hitters are averaging two or more kills per game, a balance that is created by Cruz's distribution of sets.
Last year, just three players averaged more than two kills per game, and none were above three. As a team, Loyola has improved from an average of 11.78 kills per game to 13.98 this season.
Pointing to the confidence she has gained over the last year from Hernandez's running practices that simulate high-pressure, in-game situations, Cruz has played in each of Loyola's 124 games and has led the Greyhounds to a 22-11 record and a No. 3 seed in this weekend's MAAC Tournament in Fairfield, Conn.
The Greyhounds will take on Fairfield on Sunday, November 18, at 11 a.m. They lost to the Stags in three games on Septempter 29, and then took them to five games before falling at home on October 7. Since then, the Hounds are 8-2 with five straight-set wins.
Despite losing to Fairfield twice, Cruz says she and her teammates are excited for the opportunity to take down the tournament hosts if they are going to win Loyola's first MAAC title since 1992.
"Fairfield is a good team and anyone that wants to win is going to have to beat Siena, so this would be a good win to start the weekend," Cruz said.
Siena is the two-time defending MAAC Champions and the top seed in this year's tournament, finishing tied with Fairfield at 17-1 and winning the tie-breaker.
Cruz and Hernandez both have raised their expectations for this weekend, pointing to the experience gained during last year's MAAC Tournament in Florida where every team qualified, which happens once every four years.
"I think last year we got to go and see what it was like to be there, and really, what it was like to lose and have the tears flow in the locker room after the last match," Hernandez said. "This year, I think we're ready to be more competitive."
Cruz is very much to blame for that. More than a quarterback in football or a point guard in basketball, the setter is responsible for determining the offensive approach for her team and distributing the ball to her hitters on nearly every play. Cruz job is to touch the ball the second time on every possession, and as a result she has 1381 of the Hounds' 1584 assists.
Still, she points to her teammates as providing her with the necessary support to run the offense, starting with freshman libero Brittany Born, whose 607 digs pace the Hounds. Hitters Nina Camaioni, Anastasia Collins, and Christina Greenup complement middle blockers Karlee Woodward and Rachel Shillinger in rounding out the Loyola attack.
Though things have started with Cruz all year long, the Hounds hope things end with a MAAC Championship Monday in Connecticut.
That would be a lesson well-learned.