Longtime Arroyo Grande girls volleyball coach Santa Cruz retires

Former Arroyo Grande volleyball coach Ernie Santa Cruz with his daughter Leanne in 2006.
Former Arroyo Grande volleyball coach Ernie Santa Cruz with his daughter Leanne in 2006.

After more than 30 years with the Arroyo Grande High girls volleyball program, head coach Ernie Santa Cruz is stepping down.

Santa Cruz, 65, told The Tribune on Wednesday that he talked it over with his wife and made the decision to hang it up on Thursday.

“I really enjoy the practices, but as I have gotten older, the long days and the traveling are tough,” Santa Cruz said, adding that he had been considering retirement for a while. “I just wanted to kind of fade out.”

Santa Cruz said not coaching anymore will give him more time to spend with his daughter Emily, who suffers from cardio-facio-cutaneous syndrome, or CFC, which has left her with poor vision, a heart condition and intellectual disabilities. Emily Santa Cruz, 18, is one of an estimated 300 people worldwide who has been diagnosed with CFC.

Ernie Santa Cruz retired the year she was born but returned in 2007. He said his wife, Molly, and his oldest daughter, Leanne, who played for him in 2007, have been supportive of his decision.

“It is easy to think, ‘I’m not quite ready. One more year,’” said Santa Cruz, who retired from his day job at Slime Tire Sealant Company eight years ago. “But you have to do it sometime.”

Athletic director Dwight MacDonald said he will be a hard coach to replace.

“He has been a fantastic coach for us and an outstanding role model,” MacDonald said Wednesday.

During his 26 years as head coach, Santa Cruz led Arroyo Grande to 15 league titles and 10 CIF quarterfinals and coached more than 20 players who went on to play Division I college volleyball, including National Player of the Year Cary Wendell, who played at Stanford University. Santa Cruz said outside of practice he will miss helping girls develop their skills.

MacDonald said the search for Santa Cruz’s replacement is open and has been posted on

“Since I have been there for such a long time, I have tried to keep things as consistent as possible,” Santa Cruz said. “I hope whoever takes my spot will be there for a while.”