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Love for Volleyball Takes Alum to New Places

Student & Alumni Stories

From the Dominican Republic to Olathe, Kansas to Commerce, Texas, Zoraida Heredia de la Cruz, or Soly, as her friends call her, has definitely led a life of change. What brought this Dominican Republic native to MNU? One word: volleyball.

Soly loves volleyball and spent her teen years playing for the junior national team of the Dominican Republic. Traveling with the team she saw Mexico, Peru, Thailand, and even spent some time enjoying the local flavors of Cuba.

When her athletic career with the junior national team was complete, decisions had to be made. Because of her height (she’s only 5’9,” which is short for an outside hitter), she knew she would not qualify for the adult national team of her country. Her next desire was to come to America to earn a college degree.

The U.S. Calls

Soly’s coach in the Dominican Republic had some U.S. connections that brought Soly to Iowa Western Community College, where she played volleyball for two years. When it was time to transfer, her assistant coach at IWCC reached out to head MNU head coach, Kristin Steele. At MNU she also met Pam Luiz, the assistant coach from MNU at the time. Luiz spoke Spanish like Soly. That and a love for volleyball formed a connection between the two and Soly decided to transfer to MNU.

Besides the volleyball program, Soly was very excited that MNU was a Christian campus. She looked forward to deepening her relationship with God. She appreciated the fact that the volleyball team prayed before and after games, and that honoring God was a big part of the team’s personality.

Success at MNU

The team was very successful during Soly’s years at MNU. In her junior year the team competed in the NAIA National Tournament. Coach Steele said “she was a very important part of our success in 2013 and 2014.” In both seasons, she was named 1st Team All-Conference and NAIA All-American.

Soly was more than an athlete. She worked to earn her degree in sports management and also devoted her time to assisting Prof. Jack Jones with sports activities like 5K races. And Soly says she grew personally.

“It was fun to be involved in all the activities that I could,” she said. “Everyone was so nice. The professors were very caring and would always work with your schedule. They made me want to be a better person.”

Soly became the student assistant coach for the team in the 2015 season while she finished her degree.

“I have had many great student assistants, but I don’t think I’ve had one as interested in just learning as Soly,” Steele says.

Coaching Career

Deciding that she wanted to continue to coach volleyball, Soly learned of an opening at Texas A&M – Commerce and applied for the position.

“Everything just fell into place,” Soly commented. The move to Texas allowed her to continue coaching while also working toward her master’s degree in Spanish. Coaching volleyball full time is now her overall goal.

Soly says the classes she took in sports management at MNU have greatly assisted her in her coaching career, enabling her to be a better coach. An added plus of attending MNU: Soly met her fiancé, Armand Banks. Now she is also busy planning their wedding!

Soly says her MNU experience is something she would not trade. With her desire for learning, and through her classes and her time representing MNU on the volleyball court, she gained valuable experience that propelled her to where she is today.


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Winter 2019

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