Every day Sienna Cruz wakes up, she feels blessed to play soccer, attend college in Chicago and look forward to a potential career in advertising and public relations. Those possibilities seemed bleak in the fall of 2015 when she tore her ACL playing for her club team. She was sidelined for nearly a year while undergoing physical therapy and her own rehabilitation plan. From the beginning, she knew the road to recover would be long and difficult.
“What worked for me was setting small goals every week,” said Cruz, who graduated from Monona Grove High School in 2016 but missed her senior year. “It makes you realize how much you love to play. You sit on the bench, and to see someone else score was a thrill. But you still have that desire even when you are not playing.”
Luckily, her hard work paid off as she enters her senior year on the women’s soccer team at Loyola University. One goal Cruz would like to fulfill is winning another Missouri Valley Conference title and returning to the NCAA tournament.
The 2018 Ramblers finished 11-7-1 overall by winning six of their final seven regular season games. In the conference tournament, Loyola knocked off Illinois State 2-1 and then clinched the league title and a berth in the NCAA Division 1 tournament with a 3-2 win over Drake.
The Ramblers dropped a 1-0 decision to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA tourney, but Cruz said going through those successes provided the team with a boost of confidence heading into this season.
“That was a big accomplishment,” said Cruz, who scored three goals in 2018. “I hope we can continue that spirit of a winning mentality by showing up to practice every day and winning games. We have some really great freshmen coming in.”
Cruz learned what it takes to win by participating three seasons on the Monona Grove girls soccer team. In 2013, her freshman year, the Silver Eagles finished 15-3 overall, but lost in the WIAA Division 2 regional final game. She scored six goals and had seven assists for 19 points.
As a sophomore, Cruz had 11 goals and four assists for 26 points as MG finished 12-5-2 overall. But the team lost in the regional round again to Fort Atkinson.
The 2015 season would turn out to be Cruz’ final year on the MG varsity squad as the Silver Eagles ended up 14-5-2 but lost in the regional to eventual state champion Oregon.
The year 2016 was difficult for Cruz, who calls herself a very active person. While recovering from her injuries, she was forced to sit on the sidelines while watching her teammates perform on the field.
“Right after surgery, I was very limited in what I could do. I woke up every morning knowing I still had a long, long way to go,” Cruz said. “Going to physical therapy and doing things on your own helps you get back that much quicker, and it makes you stronger mentally and physically.”
Cruz was drawing some interest from a number of colleges and ended up signing a letter of commitment to play women’s soccer at Eastern Michigan University.
She changed her mind after a representative from Loyola watched her play during a club soccer match in Iowa. The thought of attending school and playing college soccer in Chicago sounded very appealing.
“There was something about Loyola that I knew I would enjoy a lot more than playing in Michigan,” Cruz said. “The coaches’ mentality toward the game was a huge reason why I chose to go here.”
Yet, Cruz admitted the transition from high school girls soccer to NCAA Division 1 women’s soccer was frightening, especially after missing her senior year in high school. But she finally received some playing time during a midseason game against UW-Madison.
The 2016 Ramblers were only 5-11-3, but the team improved significantly in Cruz’ sophomore and junior years.
Looking back, Cruz said one of her biggest accomplishments was convincing herself she was capable of playing women’s college soccer at the Division 1 level.
“Being comfortable playing at such a high level definitely allowed me to grow as a player,” she said.
With Cruz embarking on her final senior of college soccer, she looks forward to playing alongside her twin sister, Savannah, who is also on the Loyola roster and was a star player for Monona Grove. Injuries have hampered Sienna’s twin, who will start the 2019 season as a redshirt junior.
“I think this year might be her year,” Sienna Cruz said.
Meanwhile, she is hopeful more girls will take up soccer following the success of the U.S. women’s team’s World Cup championship. Sienna Cruz said that success gave soccer a major boost.
“It was great to watch. It makes you realize how much more soccer is besides playing it as a sport,” Sienna Cruz said. “I think it was important for the United States to make such a big statement.”