By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Kylin Munoz just wants to keep playing.
All that means this week is that she wants to get through a difficult Nebraska team in a hostile environment Friday night. That would put Munoz and her University of Washington volleyball team in the NCAA tournament’s round of eight, possibly against an opponent Munoz has long since left behind.
A UW senior, Munoz knows that the last match of her collegiate volleyball career could come in the next day or two.
Or could it?
As the Huskies prepare to face Nebraska in the Omaha Regional that also includes rival Oregon and a BYU team Munoz knows all too well, the former Monroe High School star is holding out hope that this might not be her final weekend, or final season, playing for the Huskies.
A UW fan virtually her entire life — she started attending volleyball matches at Hec Edmundson Pavilion as far back as she can remember — Munoz took a six-month hiatus from bleeding purple when she signed with BYU as a high school senior. She later cited her Mormon faith as a major reason for the commitment, but soon after she had second thoughts.
She tried to get out of her commitment, but BYU refused to release her from her letter of intent. Instead of BYU, Munoz enrolled at Washington, but since she had not received an official release from BYU, the move cost her a year of eligibility.
UW coach Jim McLaughlin has written a letter to the BYU athletic department in an effort to get a transfer waiver that would give Munoz an extra year of eligibility.
It’s a touchy subject, one McLaughlin doesn’t really want to discuss in a public forum other than to say: “All I know is they could overturn it. All I’ve done is ask (BYU) to look into it.”
Munoz has no regrets on her decision to sign with BYU nor to de-commit and stay close to home. But right now she isn’t really thinking about BYU — other than pondering the possibility of facing the Cougars in a national quarterfinal match if both programs win Friday night.
“Obviously¸ I would love to (play another year of college volleyball). I love UW,” said Munoz, an outside hitter. “But I’m just focusing on these next two weeks — hopefully — as a Husky.”
Part of what makes the possibility of an abrupt end so frustrating for Husky fans is how far Munoz has come. The Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior at Monroe, Munoz sat out her freshman year and struggled to pick up the Huskies’ system when she first became eligible.
“Early in the process, learning wasn’t that easy (for Munoz),” McLaughlin said. “I tried a lot of things — film, looking at it differently, asking her different things and trying to get her more mindful of the learning process. It was really hard for her.”
In Munoz’s junior year, things began to click and she became a valuable contributor, ranking second on the team in kills. McLaughlin hoped the quiet, steady Munoz would become more of a vocal leader as a senior while finding more consistency in her play.
She has succeeded on both counts.
“She’s continuing to get better every day,” McLaughlin said. “And the better you get, the harder it is to improve. But the great ones keep improving.”
McLaughlin was particularly impressed when the low-key Munoz started shouting positive encouragement to her teammates during a five-set, comeback win over Oregon.
There was also the practice when a torn meniscus caused Munoz’s leg to lock up. After trainers unlocked the leg, Munoz went right back into action. At another practice, she sprained her ankle yet refused to come out of the drill.
“The thing you wouldn’t know about her is she’s one of the toughest players I’ve ever coached,” McLaughlin said.
Munoz, 6-foot-1 and the daughter of a volleyball coach, said McLaughlin’s ability to keep pushing her is what brought out the best in her game.
“What I’ve loved about him was his honesty,” she said. “It’s not brutal at all; it’s just honest. All the players that come to this program, we come here to get better. It’s nice to have a coach that cares about you that much to be that honest.”
Whenever her playing career is over, Munoz wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a coach. She’s plans to start the process as soon as the season is over, when she’ll help coach her mother’s club team for 13-and-under players.
“I just want to be around this sport,” she said. “I love volleyball.”
Munoz, whose mother played volleyball at UW when she was known as April Topham, likes to tell the story of how she got hit in the head while attending her first UW volleyball match as a child, and her first words were “Go Uckies!” — a toddler’s attempt to say “Go Huskies!”
But something about BYU pulled at her for six months, and that might end up costing her a year of eligibility.
“I try not to live in the past,” Munoz said. “It was a good learning opportunity. Everything happens for a reason, and I’m happy where I am.”