Cruz, Amsden keep Devils on point
GYPSUM – The smile is interchangeable.Alex Amsden, the senior captain and point guard for the Eagle Valley girls basketball team, is wearing it in the fourth quarter of a 57-43 home win over Glenwood Springs. With only seconds remaining on the game clock, the outcome of the contest has long been decided. The visiting Demons, demoralized after an early first-quarter lead dissolved from the unbending pressure from the Devils, are more concerned about dishing out a few hard fouls in the waning moments of the game than scoring any more baskets as the clock ticks down.Unlike some of her teammates, Amsden isn’t about to let up any on her beaten opponents.In the midst of a chippy final minute, there is a tipped pass, then a loose ball rolling around on the floor, and then an ensuing dash by Amsden and a Glenwood Springs player for possession. The play is entirely inconsequential. When Amsden comes up off the floor and sees that the ref has signaled jump ball, and that the possession arrow pointing in her team’s direction, the smile is there. It’s a pronounced expression – a grin that underlines the competitive fire flaring inside.Kevin Cruz, the senior point guard for the Eagle Valley boys team, flashes the same grin a little under an hour later.In the midst of a second-quarter offensive run that puts the game out of reach, Kruz rips a no-look, side-arm pass to senior guard Brian McDonough, who is standing all alone under the hoop.McDonough lightly drops the ball in the hoop for two points, but it’s the pass – a flashy windup of an assist – that draws the cheers from the home crowd as Cruz and his teammates run to the opposite end of the court. The interchangeable smile is there, on Cruz’s face, as he gets into a defensive crouch and prepares to guard Sean Flohr, the Demons biggest offensive threat. There for everyone to see.
Amsden and Cruz give near identical quotes when asked why they love playing point guard.”I’m the type of person that likes to take control of the situation and run everything,” Amsden says. “I just like knowing that I can control the tempo and work with all the girls.”Says Cruz, “I like to be able to see the court and to control the game and do what needs to be done.Their games are not interchangeable. Both players play tough, physical defense, but Cruz brings the bling on offense while Amsden, fundamental to her core, opts to bring the basics.Amsden is a better shooter from beyond the 3-point line. Cruz is superior driving the lane. Amsden is more patient; Cruz more difficult to slow down when he gets into the flow of the game.Both represent the catalysts on their respective teams. They are the floor generals – two commanding presences on two playoff-bound basketball teams.Each has gifted post players. For Cruz, it’s senior Cody Gerard and junior John Gabriel; for Amsden, seniors Kenzie Shreeve and Stacie Santoro.Each is surrounded by talent on the perimeter as well. The senior foursome of guards on the boys team – McDonough, Andy Johnson, Cruz and David Hernandez – is a seasoned group of playmakers.Amsden has senior Alison Colby and junior Rachel Sandoval, both lethal 3-point shooters, with whom to share the backcourt duties.Despite the potent mix of talent on both teams, it’s apparent that without Cruz and Amsden, the Devils, who weren’t expected to do well with the jump up to 4A, wouldn’t be where they are today.The Devils boys (10-11) head to Steamboat Springs tonight to face off against Ranum, while the girls (13-8) are off to Golden to face Evergreen. “Alex works hard all the time,” says girls coach Jamie Mayne. “Whether we’re running, or we’re doing defense, or we’re shooting – she’s usually the first done, or the best defender, or is the one always boxing out. She plays great defense all the time. She never lets down.”
Boys coach Pat Gabriel, a devoted lifelong instructor of the game, says that Cruz is a player who has reached an elite level nearly all on his own.”He’s a self-made player,” Gabriel says. “He has great team instincts. He’s a great defensive player, he reads defenses really well on offense and he can play with pain because he’s in great physical condition. I just find him to be a really hard worker and a fiery competitor.”Gabriel also marvels at the fact that Cruz, who is right-hand dominant, learned to shoot left-handed after an elbow injury in baseball caused him to lose full strength and range of motion in his right arm. “I used to be a pitcher and I pitched too much and the bone went dead in it,” says Cruz. “I started shooting in ninth grade, and it took me about a year and a half to start making shots consistently. I do everything else righthanded, but I can’t shoot my right unless it’s post shots.”Says Gabriel, “I’ve only seen one other player in my life who has done the same thing.”
One-on-oneIt makes perfect sense.What with the interchangeable smiles, and the fierce, unabashed competitiveness, and the everlasting love for the game of basketball – it fits just right, really.The smile is there on Amsden’s face, again, when she is asked about Cruz.”Do you know Kevin?” she is asked.There is a pause.The question is meant only to get Amsden to open up about how she compares her game to that of her senior male counterpart, but Amsden comes back with something else – something that isn’t surprising to hear after she is done answering. “We’ve been dating for three months now,” she says. “But before that we were on-and-off for two years. It’s a long story.”Too long for this story for sure.Another dumb question: What was the attraction?”We’ve had a long history,” Amsden says. “But I think what attracted him to me was that I could play basketball and that I would always go and play with the guys and stuff.”Cruz, when pressed, assesses his girlfriend’s game without reservation.”She’s a good point guard,” says Cruz, smiling. “She can really pass the ball and she can shoot farther out than I can. She’s not as flashy, but she’s more fundamental, like most girls are.”And what about playing one-on-one? “She beats me at HORSE,” Cruz says. “But when we play one-on-one I don’t let up on her.” Sounds like a great matchup.Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com.