Coach DONAN CRUZ ’07 has an impressive resume of national championships, coach of the year awards, and national tournament appearances.
He recently won the 2022 AVCA Men’s Division I/II National Coach of the Year and MIVA Coach of the Year award in his first year as the Head Men’s Volleyball Coach for Ball State University after leading his team to a semifinal berth in the NCAA tournament.
Before Cruz’s tenure began at Ball State, he was a four-time American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) NAIA Men’s National Coach of the Year while coaching at Grand View University. Cruz was also a two-time NAIA Midwest Coach of the Year and three-time Heart of America Conference Coach of the Year. Cruz built the program from the ground up with the help of the athletic department and support from Grand View’s administration. This led to two National Championships for Grand View, and Cruz’s .793 winning percentage makes him one of the best in NAIA Men’s Volleyball history.
Cruz attributes much of his coaching success to his Graceland Experience. As a student-athlete, he was an outside hitter and defensive specialist for the men’s team. He began his volleyball coaching journey as a student intern for the women’s program in 2004 and 2005 before becoming the recruiting coordinator in 2006. Cruz shared he had not thought about coaching as a profession until Stu Sherman ’85 asked him and five other teammates to consider helping with the women’s program. Cruz’s passion for mentorship was inspired by Sherman, Stew McDole ’65, and Chad McDole ’00. Cruz learned the importance of coaching and mentoring each player and understanding how it affects the team. To have a successful team, Cruz said, “You have to be able to get the best out of an athlete without demeaning their character.”
Cruz has modeled his teams after Graceland’s volleyball programs. In fact, he became Grand View’s first men’s volleyball coach by putting together a business proposal and pitching this idea to the Director of Athletics and Grand View leadership. This proposal was the culmination of his learning inside the classroom and on the court at Graceland. He convinced the Grand View administration that a men’s volleyball team would help with enrollment, mentorship, and retention. Cruz keeps this handwritten business proposal with him as a reminder of his journey.
Cruz expressed his sincere gratitude for the opportunities given to him at Graceland. The things he learned, the relationships he formed, and the chances to grow have helped him develop into an inspiring coach and dedicated husband and father. He met his wife, Anna Bair ’06, through his work with Graceland volleyball, and they have three wonderful boys together — and it all began during their time on “the Hill.”