San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 22, 2016 – Aury Cruz is arguably the best female volleyball player in the history of Puerto Rico with a long list of achievements to show for it.
Two years ago, just to mention one of her accolades, she was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a Gator Great in recognition to her feats and contributions to four straight years as champions of the South Eastern Conference from 2000 to 2003.
There was, however, a missing link in that chain of feats for the 34-year-old Cruz and that was taking part in the Olympic Games, a dream she will be able to realize next August in Rio de Janeiro now that Puerto Rico became on Sunday the twelfth and last team to punch the ticket to the quadrennial sports summit.
Having participated in four Central American and Caribbean Games, four Pan American Games, four FIVB World Championships, and countless Pan American Cups and NORCECA Championships, parading around the iconic Maracaná Stadium in the Brazilian capital at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics should be the icing on the cake for her.
“It is a big achievement,” Cruz said with watered eyes. “After playing in foreign leagues for the past eleven years I have had the chance to play alongside many Olympians and I felt that my career was incomplete. Now that I have it, is time to go for more in Rio.
“The Olympics are the biggest tournament and since 2009 we have been planning for a moment like this one,” Cruz recalled. “Each one has worked hard and I feel proud of this group of players who have grown a lot. There is no better feeling than reaching the Olympics with this bunch of girls.”
Cruz, a native of Bayamon who started her volleyball career as a teen-ager playing for Llaneras de Toa Baja of the Puerto Rican Superior League back in 1998, is a well known international figure after various stints in the Italian League and playing also in Spain, South Korea and Azerbaijan.
Aury grew up watching and admiring her oldest sister Eva, who represented Puerto Rico playing basketball and volleyball. As a matter of fact, basketball was her favorite discipline until her sophomore year with the Gators when she decided for volleyball full-time.
Cruz, who stands 1.80 meters tall, has been defending the colors of Puerto Rico for 20 years, including the junior ranks, could be retiring from the national team after the Rio Games and thus giving way to a new breed of players ready for the next Olympic cycle.
“I am very proud of this team who has matured a lot and the technical staff has made its contributions,” she said. “It was a mission and everyone wanted to do his part. Everyone wanted to stand out. We had a lot of fights but my ultimate goal is to have the group on a mission.
“Now I am retiring after Rio and after 18 years with the national team which was enough I think,” Cruz said. “It is not that I am old, because you all guys saw me digging for balls out there, it is because I have some plans that I want to put in practice and it’s about time to start.”World Olympic Qualification Tournament websites:Women's WOQT in JapanMen's WOQT in JapanWomen's WOQT in Puerto RicoMen's WOQT in MexicoRelated information:Olympic qualification processQuick links:Puerto Rico bt Kenya 3-0 (25-8, 25-23, 25-15)Colombia bt Algeria 3-0 (25-16, 25-12, 25-18)Puerto Rico bt Colombia 3-0 (25-17, 26-24, 25-18)Kenya bt Algeria 3-1 (25-14, 23-25, 25-14, 25-16)Puerto Rico bt Algeria 3-0 (25-10, 25-11, 25-12)