Oct. 6, 2011
SEATTLE - With much of the attention of a new season surrounding new players, a huge part of a team's success can get overlooked, and that is the year-to-year progression of the returners. One of the biggest reasons behind third-ranked Washington's continued success despite three new starters, is the improvements in the game of junior Kylin Muñoz.
It's hard to believe that the Monroe product is now halfway through her junior season, as it still feels like her career is just taking off. Due to NCAA transfer rules, Muñoz lost a season of eligibility after initially signing with BYU. That turned her into a sophomore for her first college season in 2010. Despite a year's worth of practice in 2009, facing adversity in a match setting was needed to push her game forward.
"I've seen a response from her when negative things happen," said head coach Jim McLaughlin at practice on Wednesday. "She's figuring out what do I need to do to make the right things happen. She's got to have the composure to make the changes and get her body to do what it's supposed to do."
Muñoz started 23 matches last year and was fourth on the team with 181 kills (1.76 per set). She was consistent and kept her errors low, but sometimes had trouble finishing off the point. This season her production is up across the board. She's averaging 3.12 kills per set to rank second on the team behind Krista Vansant, and her attack percentage has shot up to .270, and is even better thus far in conference play, at .282. Muñoz's blocking and digging numbers are also both up significantly.
For McLaughlin, such improvements go along with a player "learning how to learn." Muñoz brings the needed level of commitment each day, and is now seeing some carryover from practice to game day.
"You get a return on the work and it's a good deal," says McLaughlin. "I just want her to keep fighting and get more. The sky is the limit.
The former Washington State Player of the Year has displayed a wider array of shots this season, with delicate tips, sharper crosscourt angles, and big swings off the block and out. The pure miles per hour on her "fastball" appear to have jumped up as well, but all of that is mostly just a byproduct of developing the mental game, says Muñoz.
"More than anything, I've changed my mindset to be more aggressive," she says. "I feel more confident in my hitting ability overall, because I've been working on it so hard. But I still have huge improvements to make."
One point in particular that seemed emblematic of the difference between this year and last, was match point in Washington's most recent win against Oregon State. Up 26-25 and coming off a lengthy rally, the Huskies and Beavers went into another long one, with Muñoz getting dug on a couple good early swings. She then had to take some pace off a couple attempts to keep the point going, until finally on her sixth swing of the point, she banged one off the OSU blockers and out to the side to clinch the victory.
"We're just lucky enough to have such a great team that we have rallies like that all the time in practice," said Muñoz. "So just being able to stay composed I think was a big key to that; something that we do every day."
Errors remain a part of the game, and learning to overcome a miss is something McLaughlin stresses, and Muñoz is picking that up. She's doing a better job to "not get torn up because I make an error, just move on to the next play. Just let the play go and move on to the next one."
The attack percentage is certainly not the only number to focus on. Muñoz is quick to point out that her blocking handwork and passing needs to be brought up to speed as well. But McLaughlin sees the work ethic needed to get there.
Muñoz impresses her coach on a daily basis, and it goes well beyond the volleyball court. "The type of person she is and the way she carries herself and comes to practice. She's very deliberate in what she does. So I'm not surprised in any way that she's made improvement, and she's just going to keep making more improvement."
As the Huskies continue on with Pac-12 play, with several critical road trips still to come, they'll continue to rely on Muñoz for a large chunk of the offense. Her confidence continues to rise, and McLaughlin believes she will be ready.
"Confidence to me isn't about winning and losing," says the coach. "It's understanding what you need to do and through sound and mindful preparation believing you can do that. That's what she's going through.
"At some point you become confident enough to put on the bulletproof vest and say `bring it on, I don't care who you are I want to play you.'"