Cruz Maestas: Play on, Bulldogs
Senior becomes mentor after ACL injury
It’s the eerie singular noise that every athlete dreads. Few hear it, but the ones who do will never forget it.
When Cruz Maestas heard the “pop” in her right knee, she knew. Soccer season done, high school athletic career over.
“I knew it was bad because I usually just pop back up and keep playing,” she said.
When she heard and felt that pop March 15, she knew. Crumpled on the field, holding her knee, wailing in pain, she knew.
“I thought, ‘Oh no, I’ve never heard that before,’ ” she said, forcing a chuckle several days later as she recalled the moment.
After a basketball season in which she was selected all-conference, the senior with the gleaming smile was off to the best start of her soccer career. She had scored five goals in four games, including the only goals in two 1-0 Palisade wins.
“It’s pretty upsetting,” she said about the injury. “But I just decided that I was going to be here for my team. I’ll always support them.”
For the athlete who was voted Palisade High’s most athletic along with Tass Crow, it’s frustrating to now be a spectator.
On Thursday, Maestas sat in a chair with her shredded knee propped up and an ice bag on it.
After the injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament, she was inundated with texts, calls, and more well wishes than a wishing well.
Along with her frustration and the emotion that comes with the end of a stellar high school athletic career, her smile is still ever-present, but then comes an almost sinister twist to that smile.
“It got really annoying,” Maestas said about going back to school and having all of her classmates bugging her.
She was peppered with more questions than a courtroom cross-examination.
“What happened? Did it hurt? Why are you on crutches? Are you OK?”
“Everybody just kept asking the same questions, which I don’t mind answering,” she said.
Courteous, but annoyed.
“(Teammate) Kate Mueller said I should just get a sign: ‘Don’t ask about my knee, I tore my ACL,’ ” Maestas said with a laugh.
About the only question that wasn’t asked was: How do you spell ACL?
For Cruz Maestas, ACL spelled disaster.
Up to that point, Cruz was cruising.
Seeing Maestas hobbling around on crutches is a tough sight for her teammates. But it’s more than just losing a great player.
“We’ve played together since we were 12, so we’re really good friends,” senior goalkeeper Katie Dunn said. “This has been hard. Losing her hurts, not just for the team, but because she’s my friend. That’s what really hurts.”
With the Bulldogs off to a 5-0 start after Thursday’s win, the team has been forced to find another goal scorer. But that won’t be easy.
Palisade coach Raina Sorensen readily admits there’s not “another Cruz” on the team.
The hard-charging Maestas played with a linebacker mentality and a never-say-die determination that could be compared to an obsessed hamster endlessly cranking the spinning wheel.
The final goal of her high school career summed up her playing mentality. She sprinted to the ball, ignored a possible collision and drilled a shot into the goalkeeper’s midsection, then relentlessly pursued the loose ball and popped it into the net.
That was how Maestas played, and that’s what her teammates grew to expect.
Now she is done playing, but she’s ready to be the mentor.
For good friend and sophomore midfielder India Hilty, the injury hit her hard.
“I was really bummed out. I just try to stay positive for her, so she can get through this and move on,” Hilty said.
Maestas has always been her mentor.
“She’s definitely taught me a lot on the soccer field. I’m a lot more confident because of her,” she said.
Maestas eagerly hands out advice and encouragement.
“I try to help her mentally,” she said of Hilty. “I just want to be there for her no matter what. And for Katie Mueller, since she took the forward position. I’m trying to help her as much as I can.”
Maestas ponders the big question: What advice would she give the Bulldogs now that she’s done for the season?
“I think they need to have a more offensive mind,” she said. “Like, ‘I’m going to score,’ instead of ‘I think I’m going to score,’ or, ‘I want to score.’ “
In other words, play like Maestas.
The words that describe her playing style come to mind: Determined, relentless, aggressive, physical, confident.
She wants her teammates to play with the same kind of aggression and confidence she had.
“Whenever I was playing, I was like, ‘This ball is going in!’ You just have to have a confident mindset.”
As Maestas stuffs her crutches under her arms, she proclaims how much she “hates crutches!” She mostly hates being anchored to the sidelines. Annoying, frustrating, tormenting.
This is not how she envisioned her career coming to an end.
But it is the reality.
Behind the brilliant smile, there’s pain, but she’s not going to abandon her teammates.
All they have to do is look at their injured teammate to remind them to play hard, aggressive, determined and confident soccer.
It’s still a long season, and the Bulldogs are battling for a league title.
Who knows what will happen without Cruz Maestas? But there’s one thing that will help as they move forward: Play like Cruz, and good things will happen.