Sept. 3, 2010
When Kylin Muñoz chose to stay close to home and be a Husky, she knew it could mean a lengthy hiatus away from the spotlight. Having already signed a letter of intent with BYU, changing her mind and donning the purple and gold could cost her a full year, so she truly had to be committed. The reigning Gatorade Washington State Player of the Year from Monroe would wind up forfeiting the 2009 season, and the state's top player was seen in action only by her teammates every day in practice.
So it was understandable that Muñoz wore the biggest grin last Friday when her name was announced as a starter when the Huskies lined up to open the 2010 season against Mercer. The day had been a long time coming for Muñoz, but she wasn't alone. After she met her fellow starters on the court, Muñoz was joined by Jenna Orlandini, her close friend and roommate, who also redshirted the 2009 season and now was starting her first match at libero.
Muñoz reached to her left and squeezed Orlandini's hand, as they both radiated excitement to finally be competing in front of the Husky faithful.
"It was unreal," said Muñoz. "I live with Jenna, and we got up so early because we were so antsy, so ready to go. We had our bags packed and ready. Finally being out on the court was really special, especially standing next to her, because we're good friends. We can't believe it's been a year."
Once she arrived at the arena and started through the pre-match routine, the jitters began to fade away. The first night couldn't have gone much better for Muñoz. She put down six kills on 11 swings without making an error, and the Huskies rolled to an easy sweep of the Bears. She was finally back in business.
Muñoz is able to look back on the year as a positive. The college transition is stressful for any freshman, let alone for a student-athlete trying to pick up on the intricacies of the system that Head Coach Jim McLaughlin puts in place at Washington.
"Coming in knowing that I was going to have to redshirt definitely helped prepare me. I think it was a really good adjustment period, getting used to playing at U-Dub and under Jim, and getting used to trying to juggle school with volleyball. So it actually went more smoothly than I thought it would," Muñoz says.
The year of work behind the scenes, on the court and in the weight room, has made Muñoz stronger, and she is learning at a faster pace, always one of Coach McLaughlin's biggest points of emphasis.
"Every day, even every session, every opportunity we have to improve a little bit, I'm expecting more and more from Kylin," McLaughlin said during the team's media day. "There's indicators out there that are telling me, wow, this kid can learn. She's changing her game; she's becoming even more mindful thinking about the right things. It's not a magic thing; if she understands that, if she is willing to work extremely hard, there's a chance for her at the highest level if she keeps behaving the way she has."
Muñoz agrees, "I've still got a long ways to go but hopefully I can keep improving."
The one thing that McLaughlin will be looking for Muñoz to develop is something of a mean streak when she gets on the court. Muñoz laughed when asked if she maybe needed to just be a littler more fiery.
"I've heard that before," says Muñoz. "Be a little bit more of a spitfire. I guess it's not usually in my nature, but definitely being more aggressive would be a good word for it."
Is that something someone can practice just like a serve? "Just have to fake it `til you make it," she says with a laugh.
The toughest part of last year for Muñoz was not being allowed to travel with the team on the road, due to the nature of her transfer. On match days she would be glued to a Gametracker, watching a live stream or relying on text messages from teammates to keep her informed. This weekend, Muñoz finally gets to stake out her seat on the team bus and head out on the road, as the Huskies trek to Boise, Idaho for the Northwest Challenge.
"The great thing about UW is I never felt like I was different because I was redshirting and couldn't travel, but I'm so excited to actually be there to play and also have the bonding experience of traveling," she says.
With that first match under her belt, Muñoz also made history by becoming the first second-generation Husky volleyball player to suit up. Her mother, the former April Topham, was a letterwinner for the Huskies in 1989-90, making Kylin the first Husky daughter to follow in her mother's footsteps.
"My mom is really good about knowing after the game if I don't want to talk about volleyball, but we always go out to dinner afterwards," Muñoz says. "So it's nice having my family here, and when they talk to me about volleyball they really know what they're talking about. They're just so excited to finally see me out there. Our house is full of Husky stuff."
It took some patience, but good things come to those who wait. The Huskies hope Muñoz will do a number of great things for them this season and beyond.