Hundreds of players and people at State Farm Stadium on Saturday morning paused for a moment of silence for Alexa Cruz before the games.
“I could hear my girls sniffling and crying and it just melts my heart because I know they’re struggling but we’re all in this together,” said Coach Breelle Lugo. “I just hope we can continue playing for Alexa because that’s what she would want.”
The 17-year-old died in a car accident on February 3. Three athletes and their families from Venom Volleyball Club in Goodyear were headed to Texas for the Lone Star Nationals Tournament when their SUV hit black ice. Several others, including Alexa’s mom Sandra Cruz, were seriously hurt.
Venom initially pulled out of the tournament because of the tragedy. But the team brainstormed together and thought about what Alexa would want.
“We put a pause on things and the majority reason we came back was if the team wanted to, our decision was based on their decision,” Lugo said. “So we had individual meetings talking with them, ‘is it too soon? Hey do you want to continue or do you not?'”
The girls overwhelmingly wanted to get back on the court in their friend’s honor.
“I feel like Alexa would want us to play, go forward with the team and play for her,” Larissa said.
“Alexa was our energy, honestly,” another teammate Olivia said. “She was the cheer starter, she kept us going and that’s the one thing we’re missing today but we tried our best.”
The two shared their favorite memories with Alexa.
“We’d always high-five each other hard and she’d always leave a sting on my hand so not having that feeling from her is…” Larissa said with tears in her eyes, unable to finish the sentence.
Olivia described Alexa’s personality and legacy.
“Everyone wanted to be around her, she was just that person,” Olivia said. “The most kind-hearted girl you’ll ever meet, just so loving.”
For them, the tournament wasn’t about winning. It was about celebrating and remembering their friend.
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“Today is definitely not about winning,” Lugo said. “We all agreed this was just for fun and it was for Alexa and if we lose or we win that’s OK.”
The Venom community made warm-up jerseys with Alexa’s number on it. Lugo said her jersey number will be retired.
“We spent a lot of time together talking about life and school and she was just a go-getter, top ten in her class, always complained ‘I need that A! I need that A!” Lugo said. “She had her own business at 17, she made chocolate-covered strawberries and those breakable hearts.”
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings shared a video of support with Venom Volleyball, saying her heart is breaking right along with them.
“I haven’t really had the words and I don’t really know how to do this, but I just wanted to send my love and my prayers and my angels to all of you,” Walsh said in the video. “To miss Alexa up in heaven, to her dear friends, family, to all of you in the Venom volleyball community, my love is with you.”
Alexa’s mother Sandra Cruz is still in Texas recovering. Coaches told 12 News she was streaming the tournament from her hospital bed.
“She is the strongest woman I know, I love her and wish her the best and I can’t wait for her to come home,” Lugo said. “Well wishes to Sandra and I hope we’re making her proud by living out Alexa’s legacy.”
“I just ask everybody to send support and love to her family because they really need it right now, and keep her name going.”