Maestas chooses love of basketball for college
Cruz Maestas has been a soccer standout for years at Palisade, using her physical play to spark the offense.
She was likely a college-caliber soccer player.
But sometime this winter, when the Bulldogs’ girls basketball team battled to 16-9 record and a second-place finish in the Class 4A Western Slope League, Maestas fell in love with playing hoops.
Her entire approach to basketball changed, and Wednesday that transformation was capped when Maestas signed a national letter of intent to play basketball for McCook (Neb.) Community College.
“I feel like I have a love for basketball, and I see myself playing it a lot more,” Maestas said. “In the future, I could really see myself playing basketball instead of soccer, and I think this year really helped me in my decision. I wasn’t really sure at the beginning, and I was kind of torn between both of them, but I knew towards the of basketball season that this was what I wanted, because I never wanted the basketball season to end.”
Maestas said her offensive skills started rounding into shape during her senior season, and that motivated her to continue playing basketball.
Maestas led Palisade in scoring the past two seasons, but it wasn’t until midway through her senior season that she became a scoring force. Maestas had always been known for her defensive ability and near-reckless will to get to the rim, but adding a 3-point shot changed the game of basketball for the guard.
“I think once I started hitting the three-ball a lot more, it opened me up to how much fun basketball can be,” Maestas said. “I love defense, it’s my thing, but shooting made it fun.”
Maestas will join friend and Rifle High School guard Chante Church as well as Fruita Monument guard Kassidy Fair at McCook.
Despite tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee at the beginning of the current soccer season, Maestas said McCook women’s basketball coach Jon Froelich continued expressing interest in her, even saying she could finish rehabbing her knee with the team in McCook.
“I had been in contact with them before I got hurt, and even after I got hurt (Froelich) was still interested,” Maestas said. “He was very supportive and understanding, telling me that it was all going to be OK and to let them take care of everything (in the recruiting process).”
Bulldogs coach Danielle Bagwell credited Maestas and senior Casey Brown for “turning around the program,” adding Maestas was a quiet leader for Palisade.
“She never dogged it,” Bagwell said. “She’d be there when she was sick or hurting. She always worked at it, but I felt like as her senior year progressed it became more and more natural for her. I think she found the fun in it, and not just the work.
“I love that she’s going on to play, and I think that motivates our other players, certainly. She’s always been someone in a leadership role for us, even when that meant being a vocal leader. I know Casey Brown has some schools looking at her, and I think Cruz signing to play really gets it in the air for some of these other girls to work hard.”
Bagwell said she wasn’t sure which sport Maestas would choose, basketball or soccer, at the collegiate level, but she was confident Maestas could play either.
“She’s such a fantastic athlete, and I thought she’d have things lined up by her junior year,” Bagwell said. “But she was never really sure, and she kept being like, ‘I don’t know, I like both.’ ... But I think as her senior year went on, she really found a love for the game of basketball, and I think that had a lot to do with her signing today.”