Liz Cruz has been the player Ocean City High School field hockey opponents worried about for the last four years.
The speedy 5-foot Cruz ran circles around defenders all four years and combined with outstanding teammates to thoroughly dominate the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference.
Cruz, a senior forward, scored 25 goals and had 12 assists this fall, despite being constantly guarded. The Red Raiders went 19-1, dominating the conference at 16-0 and losing only to Kingsway in a penalty-stroke shootout in the South Jersey Group III championship game.
Cruz is The Press Field Hockey Player of the Year.
"It's an honor to even be considered for it because there's so many great players, not only on our team but throughout the Cape-Atlantic League," said Cruz, 17, of the Beesleys Point section of Upper Township. "To be chosen is incredible."
Cruz, a four-year starter and three-time Press first-team All-Star, finished with 76 career goals, fourth on Ocean City's all-time list. Her career total of 42 assists is one less than the school record of 43 shared by alumni Jenee Doto and Casey Beyel.
"Beyond her incredible speed and athleticism, Liz was well-rounded on the field, with her goal-scoring and assists," Ocean City coach Cory Terry said. "She created so much for our attack and picked up our momentum and intensity. She had an incredible career."
Ocean City was 82-5-1 during Cruz' four years, including 64-0 in the American Conference. Ocean City won South Jersey Group III titles her first three years and took the state title in 2009.
"My career definitely changed," Cruz said. "I looked back at films of me as a freshman, and I said, 'Was that really me?' I grew a lot as a player, and I really have to thank Mrs. (Trish) LeFever (her coach the first two years) and coach Terry and the others, plus my coaches on my club team (Spirit of USA). It's been a great ride, and I'm sad to see it end."
Cruz had one goal and two assists as Ocean City beat Haddonfield, then ranked fourth in The Press Elite 11, 4-1 on Oct. 17. She also had a hat trick in a 5-1 win over Millville, and had two-goal games in wins against Hammonton, Millville (their second meeting), Atlantic City, Absegami (twice), Vineland, and in a 5-0 win over Pinelands Regional in a South Jersey quarterfinal.
Cruz scored Ocean City's two goals in the loss to Kingsway as O.C. tied the Dragons 2-2 through regulation and two overtimes before the shootout round.
"Oftentimes other teams were very aware of Liz," Terry said. "They'd double-team her in order to prevent her from getting the ball. But even with that she was hard to stop. She would cut back or turn on the speed. They had to front her. It was incredible how she was faster with the ball than most players without it."
Concerning being closely defended, Cruz added, "It's all part of the game. You have to get around defenders. There's always somebody else to get around until you put the ball in the cage."
Cruz will play for Columbia University in New York next fall, following in the footsteps of older sister Jen Cruz, who played for Ocean City and then Columbia before graduating from the university in 2007.
"It's basically a dream come true," Liz Cruz said. "It's where I always wanted to go to, as long as I can remember."
Team of the Year
Ocean City was the area's leading team, and ranked in the top five in the Elite 11 all season. O.C. was ranked second to powerful Eastern most of the year but ended up in fourth place following the season-ending loss to Kingsway. The Red Raiders won the CAL American Conference for the 15th straight year.
Ocean City scored 123 goals and gave up just 12. The Red Raiders allowed an average of fewer than five shots on goal per game, and goalie Roisin Dougherty had 12 shutouts.
Contact Guy Gargan: