Senior outside hitter Kylin Munoz is big reason Huskies will be favored as they open their 11th straight NCAA tournament Friday at home against Central Arkansas.
The quiet kid, making some racket? This, her coach thought, is good.
Scene: Oregon at Washington, two top-10 college volleyball teams, fifth set, Ducks leading 14-11 and needing one last point to finally put away the Huskies.
As Kylin Munoz rotated out of UW’s lineup, the ordinarily demure former homecoming queen from Monroe High School dashed to the sideline.
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“She came off the court screaming, ‘We’re still in it,’ ” UW volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin recalled. “This drive was coming from such a reserved, humble kid. I thought, there’s more to this person than you see.”
The Huskies rallied, fighting off 12 Oregon match points to win an incredible fifth set 25-23. Munoz, thrust into the role of UW’s top gun with kills leader Krista Vansant (her roommate) on crutches, led Washington in kills (17), blocks (one solo, seven block assists) and aces.
“It was a great performance by everyone,” Munoz said. “The whole team came through.”
Typical, says McLaughlin. “There’s a grace about her,” he said. “She’s just a very selfless person.”
McLaughlin will be counting on more high-level output from Munoz when Washington opens its 11th straight NCAA tournament Friday at home.
Alaska Airlines Arena will host two first-round matches: Hawaii (26-2) vs. Santa Clara (20-11) at 5 p.m.; 13th-seeded Washington (23-6) vs. Central Arkansas (30-4), at about 7 p.m. The winners battle Saturday at 7 to advance to regionals.
Munoz, the 2008 state player of the year, has moved to the right side of McLaughlin’s offense for her senior year and posted career bests in hitting percentage (.260), aces per set (0.32) and blocks per set (1.19).
She ranks third in aces per set in the Pac-12 and ninth in blocks, the only outside hitter among the Pac-12’s top 10 blockers.
“Jim trains volleyball players,” Munoz said. “He doesn’t train positions.”
The daughter of April Munoz, coach at Monroe and a former UW middle blocker, Munoz originally committed to Brigham Young, then decommitted shortly before her freshman year.
The BYU coach at the time, Shay Goulding, would not release Munoz from her letter of intent, so transferring to UW cost Munoz her freshman year of eligibility.
“It was a really long process, but in the end UW was my home,” Munoz said. “I was so happy to be able to come back here. I knew then it was the right decision, and the past four years have reaffirmed that for me.”
Munoz has her game clicking. Her jump-float serve can be a knuckleballing nightmare for opponents. Her blocking is steady. Her attacks, once predictably hit cross court, are more varied.
To echo a McLaughlin mantra, Munoz has improved at thinking the right thoughts.
“Mastering the mental side of volleyball was probably one of the hardest things for me coming into collegiate sports,” she said. “It’s the mental aspect that makes the difference between those who succeed and who don’t.
“Jim defines toughness as knowing your job, staying on task and doing it for longer periods of time.”
Munoz hopes to play pro internationally. Maybe she could dream bigger. “I believe she can go on and play on the national team,” McLaughlin said. “I didn’t believe that two years ago.
“She has the physical ability, she has the heart and she has the mind,” he said. “This kid can accomplish anything she wants to accomplish. The only thing I wish she would do is talk more.”