She was even more grateful by the time it was over.
In a season to remember — indeed, one she would be hard-pressed to forget — Munoz helped the Huskies to one of the best seasons in program history. Washington was stellar throughout the season, rolling to a 28-2 regular-season record and then four straight playoff wins to reach the NCAA Final Four. Which, ironically enough, happened to be in Seattle.
Unfortunately, Washington’s dream season came to an abrupt end in the national semifinals with a loss to eventual champion Penn State. But it was still a remarkable season and one that happened because of the outstanding senior leadership and play of Munoz, who is The Herald’s Woman of the Year in Sports for 2013.
The 22-year-old Munoz, a 2009 graduate of Monroe High School, thought she might lose a year of eligibility when she enrolled at Washington after previously signing a letter-of-intent to attend Brigham Young University. But in a process that played out over the ensuing few years and was not settled until last summer, she was released from her commitment by BYU and granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA.
Munoz took full advantage of her second senior season by appearing in every set of every match for the Huskies. A senior outside hitter, she ranked fourth on the team with 1.62 kills per set and third with 0.89 blocks per set.
For Munoz, the season “was unreal. It was the best way to leave my time at the University of Washington with all the achievements we were able to make. And what made it even better was the people that I achieved all those things with. It was really a great way to go out.”
Her impact on Washington’s 2013 team “is hard to measure because she was great in every way,” said UW coach Jim McLaughlin. “She’s physical player, she’s quick as a cat, she can jump high, and she could get into good places at the right time.”
With her teammates, McLaughlin went on, “she set (a high) standard. She really had an influence. I think she had a greater influence on people than she knows. ... Her impact on each one of the people in our program was tremendous.”
For Munoz, McLaughlin and all the Huskies, the season ended with the loss to Penn State at KeyArena. The team had hoped to win a national championship in front of the hometown fans, and the heartbreak of coming up short “definitely took a long time to get over,” Munoz said.
“As any athlete knows, you’re putting your heart and soul on the line, and to work so hard and to have it be so close and then to have it yanked away, it hurt. But it’s part of any sport that you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some, and you have to look at the bigger picture. Yes, it was really disappointing, but we were still able to play in front of our home crowd in Seattle at the Final Four.”
In recent weeks, Munoz has been in Anaheim, Calif., where she is training with the U.S. national team under head coach and volleyball legend Karch Kiraly. The team schedules training blocks over a period of months, and Munoz is hoping to be invited back for additional training blocks into the summer.
She is also hoping to play professionally in the coming year, which would mostly likely be in Europe, but could also be in Asia or South America.
“I could go anywhere, and it’d be such an experience to be able play and make money, so that’s awesome,” Munoz said. “And I’d be able to live overseas and experience another culture. So I’m open to anything.”
McLaughlin, meanwhile, will spend the coming months trying to reload the Huskies for another run at a possible national championship. And doing it, he admitted, without a player he will miss very much.
“You hear coaches say that you’re not supposed to have favorites, but for sure (Munoz) was one of mine,” he said. “And for many reasons. Not just because she’s a great volleyball player, but for the way she went about things and her behavior on a day-to-day basis. She’s a great volleyball player, but she’s twice the person as she was a player.
“It’s hard to put into words what she meant to our program, what she meant to the people around her, and what she meant to the coaching staff. She’s a very special person in many ways.”
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