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Cintron Keyed Elizabeth's Rise
December 13, 2003
ALL-UNION: Player of the year: With two parents who excelled in volleyball, it was only natural for Lizzelle Cintron to pick up the sport while growing up in Puerto Rico.
"My father played volleyball and soccer and was pretty good, and my mom played for the University of Puerto Rico," said Cintron, a senior at Elizabeth. "She wasn't very big, but could really jump."
What sealed the deal for Cintron was a gift she got from one of her coaches when she was 8.
"He gave me my first volleyball and it was the best gift I've ever gotten," Cintron said. "I and my (twin) sister Michelle would pepper together for hours."
At her grammar school, Analia Marin, in Rio Piedras, Cintron was forced to learn how to get to the ball quickly.
"Our elementary school was really small," she said. "We played outdoors on concrete with the court lines painted down. Because you couldn't really dive on the concrete, it made us move a lot quicker to get to the ball. I think that really helped my passing and defense. It was a lot of fun."
One of Cintron's most enjoyable playing moments came in 1997, when her club team traveled to Orlando to compete in the junior national championships. It was her first time on the U.S. mainland.
"Going to Florida was cool," she said. "We were so surprised by how tall all of the girls were. We won four matches in four days, but played with so much intensity."
When Cintron moved with her family to the United States three years later, she wasn't sure whether she would have an opportunity to play. They settled in Linden, which had no interscholastic volleyball at the time. Seven months later, the family moved to Elizabeth prior to the start of her freshman year. Now, she had a team to play for.
But the level of volleyball Cintron saw her first day at Elizabeth High was not the same she had seen on her first trip to the U.S.
"At first, I thought people couldn't play here and I wondered why did I come here," Cintron said. "I wasn't that good, but I was a freshman and could hit harder than the juniors and seniors. But once we started playing games, I saw there were good teams and players out there and that I had a lot to learn."
Cintron spent the next four years polishing technique and honing the skills she developed as a youngster in Puerto Rico. In the process, she helped lift an Elizabeth program that had struggled since the mid-1990s back among the state's elite.
This season, the 5-10 middle blocker spiked 479 kills to shatter the Union County career record with 1,198, second-best all-time in New Jersey history. She also had 301 digs, 83 aces and 69 blocks while powering Elizabeth to victory over Union Catholic for its first Union County Tournament title since 1995.
"We kept getting better, but we had never shown anyone that we could win a big match," Cintron said. "As a senior, it was my last chance to prove that we could do it. It was a big step for us."
What helped Elizabeth make that step was Cintron's development as a player and her increasing desire to bring her teammates together.
"My freshman year, it didn't seem like anyone was having fun playing, and to me that was the most important thing," Cintron said. "We had a new coach my sophomore year and we tested her for a while, but we started winning a little more and everyone was starting to enjoy playing. It got better last year, but, this year was the first time everyone liked each other and nobody had personal problems. We worked hard and played as a team."
Cintron now has her sights on playing college volleyball, perhaps for either Seton Hall or Rutgers. She has also received interest from several Division 2 and Division 3 schools.
"I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish," Cintron said. "I have been fortunate to have great coaches. They helped me make it possible."
LIZZELLE CINTRON of Elizabeth