Prep Girls Wrestling: American Canyon's multi-tasking Cruz keeps eyes on prize, reaches state meet
American Canyon High wrestler Yvonne Cruz hopes to add another trophy to the display in the gym lobby after competing in her first state meet this weekend.
Andy Wilcox, Register
It’s hard to judge American Canyon High wrestler Yvonne Cruz by the cover.
“She has a smile that will light up a room,” assistant coach Jason Gramlick said, “and at the same point she’ll throw you a beatin.’
“I call her ‘Danger Mouse’ because she’s quiet but has great moves. It’s fun to work with somebody like that, who brings a unique personality to it.”
Cruz seems happy-go-lucky on the outside. She’s certainly happy, especially after qualifying for her first state meet last weekend with a second-place finish at 116 pounds in the CIF North Coast Section Girls Championships at Albany High.
Cruz (21-8) was the only Napa County wrestler, girl or boy, to earn a trip to the state meet, set Thursday through Saturday at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield. She will open against Polytechnic junior Karina Villalta, the Los Angeles Section’s No. 3 seed, on Thursday.
She hasn’t been lucky, though, as far as things falling into her lap.
On top of being taking her role as team captain very seriously, the daughter of Eva and Archie Cruz takes care of her three siblings at home – sister Kathleen, 13, brother Arch-Ivan, 12 and brother Adam, 3, after school while her mother sleeps after getting home from work in the early afternoon.
“When I get home I tell the older kids to help out in the kitchen, clean the dining room or clean the living room while I take care of the youngest and make sure he eats,” she said Tuesday. “I have to do homework at the same time, before I go to practice, then I do more homework before I go to sleep. That’s basically my daily routine.”
Kathleen, an eighth-grader, is thinking about playing volleyball and swimming in high school. But Arch-Ivan, a seventh-grader, can’t wait to follow in his big sister’s footsteps.
“He saw my medal and said ‘Hey, I want to do wrestling, but I want to be better than you,’” Cruz said. “I was like ‘Are you sure about that? You can’t even do push-ups.’ Now I see him in the living room every morning practicing how to do push-ups and I tell him ‘OK, your form’s a little off – your hands need to be under your shoulders – but it’s OK, keep practicing.’”
She can’t help but coach her brother – she’s done it with underclassmen boys and girls at her high school practices all season.
“Last year, (head) coach Rick Manibusan told me ‘You’re going to be the face of the team next year,’ and the thought of that made me really nervous. I was like ‘I’m not ready for this,’ but when the season came everything just kicked in, so I got in that captain mode and started yelling at everybody,” Cruz laughed. “My first day I was telling them ‘Get on the mat’ and “Do this’ and ‘Do that,’ so at first the kids were scared of me, even the guys.
“Throughout the season, I grew to love the people and the team, even the new people, and they said ‘At first we thought you were scary but you’re actually really nice.’ Usually I am. I just thought I had to put on that tough shell and act tough around the kids just to show I’m a good role model, as a captain should be.”
Cruz started grappling with the Springstowne Wrestling Academy in Vallejo when she was a Hogan Middle School sixth-grader. But after the family moved to American Canyon and she started her freshman year, she played badminton instead.
“I wanted to try something new,” she explained. “But then I saw people wrestling here and I missed it. When you start a sport really early and do it for a few years, you realize it’s a part of you and you’re going to start missing that sport once you take a break from it.”
The next winter, she and then-fellow sophomores Alexis Schuller and Angelina Turner joined the wrestling team with a goal of qualifying for the state meet together before they graduated.
“Throughout our journey as wrestlers, there were some bumps on the road,” Cruz said. “Angelina couldn’t wrestle this year and Alexis didn’t make it to the second day at the section meet. But it gave me more motivation to make it to state.”
It was tough to wrestle this year without Turner, who had been Cruz’s practice partner the last two seasons.
“I called her my ‘wrestling buddy’ because we’d always go to each other for drills and help each other out. Alexis became my partner this year, but I couldn’t really partner up with her all the time because she’s (at 170 pounds).
“So I worked with the new girls and second-year girls and taught them techniques and all that. It got me really worried because at first I was like ‘Oh no, I’ve been working with the easy people, so I haven’t been working myself out, I’ve just been working them out.’ I’d just go around and work with whoever was available and whoever needed help, guys, too.”
Because she was seeded No. 2 at 116s last weekend, Cruz received a first-round bye. She then cruised through the second round with an 83-second pinning of Scout Bates of St. Patrick-St. Vincent. Though Cruz knew Bates while growing up in Vallejo, she had only wrestled Bates’ sister previously.
Cruz then pinned Newark Memorial’s Analicia Parish in the quarterfinals in just 56 seconds, and punched her ticket to the state meet with an 8-3 decision over Albany’s Tamsin Urbas in the semifinals.
“She went out and did what she was supposed to do,” Gramlick said. “There was very little talking to her about what the game plan was. She had a formula going forward and she did it.”
Cruz was pinned in the final by Alisha Narvaez of Arroyo-San Lorenzo, but said she gave it all she had.
Asked what she did to relax before the biggest matches of her career, Cruz not only talked with her supportive coaches but looked back on all of her accomplishments.
“I thought of the last several years that I’ve wrestled and all the work that I’ve put in practice,” she said. “I went to almost every practice this season, even when others didn’t come, and worked hard every single practice and with a lot of people, so wasn’t pressuring myself to win.”
She’ll try to have the same mindset this weekend, after practicing some with Benicia’s state qualifiers this week.
“No matter what happens, if I win or lose in this tournament, it doesn’t change the fact that I brought this team, this school and this county to state,” Cruz said. “I did what I had to do and I’m leaving it all to the juniors to take over next year.”
Cruz is thinking of joining the Air Force right out of high school or after college, becoming the first from her family to join the armed forces.
“First off, I like their uniforms,” she smiled. “I also want to help my family (financially) as much as I can, and helping the country is a big deal – bigger than making it to state.”
She would be a good fit for college, too, having taken honors science classes for two years now.
“I aim for straight A’s all the time. I don’t’ always get them because I’m taking hard classes,” she said. “Being a student-athlete and managing time is really challenging. Sometimes my parents get worried that I’m not getting enough sleep. But this year has been a lot easier than last year.”
Adrienne Dominguez reached the girls state meet for the Wolves the last two seasons, when it was held separately from the boys state meet.
“It’s just a wonderful feeling for us coaches to be able to get tickets to Bakersfield two years in a row, said Gramlick, whose son Lucas – now an offensive lineman for the UCLA football program – reached his first state meet for the Wolves last winter, like Cruz this year.
“Yvonne definitely stepped up to her leadership role as a team captain this year,” he said. “She was more vocal about accountability to the team as a whole and held herself to that standard. She has always been coachable, but it really showed this season. She was always there at practice and did everything we asked.”
Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.