Arizona volleyball club continues season after losing teammate in Texas crash

Arizona's Venom Volleyball Club has decided to play again after one of its members tragically died in a car accident earlier this month.

The team was traveling from Goodyear to Austin, Texas to compete in the Lone Star National Qualifier on Feb. 3. While on the way, they ran into black ice, lost control, and crashed into an 18-wheeler near London, Texas.

"With overwhelming pain in our hearts one of our athletes has sadly passed away. Two other athletes are in critical condition but stable and one former alumni traveling with them was severely injured but in stable condition. One of the 3 parents is hospitalized and in stable condition. The other two parents have sustained minor injuries and have been discharged from the hospital," the volleyball club said.

A few weeks later, on Feb. 19, they decided to make a comeback in honor of the late Alexa Cruz.

‘That’s what she would want'

There was a moment of silence. Just a moment, but it was powerful inside State Farm Stadium.

"You’re never prepared for something like that," said Team Venom coach Breelle Lugo. "I could hear my girls sniffling and crying and it just melts my heart. I know they’re struggling. We’re all in this together. I just hope we can continue playing for Alexa because that’s what she would want."

Alexa Cruz will be missed. Others were hospitalized in the crash, including Alexa's mother.

They didn't know if they would play another game after that.

"Last Saturday instead of a tournament, we had a girls' night in," Lugo said. "We just did puzzles and coloring books and video games and just connected on a different level that we haven’t been able to after everything that’s happened."

Every warm-up jersey has the same number: 17. Alexa's number will be retired after their game.

"Today definitely is not about winning," Lugo said. "We had our individual meetings on Wednesday and we all agreed this is just for fun. This is for Alexa and if we lose or win that’s OK, because that’s not what we’re here for today. Just here to see if we can continue the season and play in Alexa's honor."

Alexa’s mom was able to watch, thanks to a web stream to her hospital bed.

She has a long road to recovery, but seeing this game might help.

"The strongest woman I know," Lugo said. "I love her and wish her the best and I can’t wait for her to come home. Because I just really miss her and I need to go see her. So all the wishes to Sandra and I hope we’re making her proud by living out Alexa's legacy."

‘It was a nightmare’

"It's not a call that any director wants to receive," said Jimmy Gonzalez, head coach and director of Venom Volleyball. "Our team had made their reservations, all their flights were scheduled since December, all accommodations were set."

Some players and their parents took early flights out Thursday morning, but then a winter storm hit Texas, causing flight cancellations and delays for those booked on evening flights.

"So those three parents or three families had reached out to us to tell us they were going to drive," Gonzalez said. "Their vehicle swerved into the oncoming traffic, and they were met by a semi-truck. Six of the people inside that vehicle – two athletes, three parents and one sibling were injured and rushed to the hospital."

A teenage athlete died on the scene.

"Once I heard that – it was a nightmare. I thought I was asleep, and I needed to wake up," Gonzalez said.

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