Commentary

Munoz boasts a sixth sense for the game

Updated: August 25, 2008, 6:04 PM ET
By Scott Lieber | ESPNRISE.com

Kylin Munoz's ability to spike a volleyball is buried somewhere in her subconscious. At 6-foot-2, the Monroe senior outside hitter has the physical gifts to be one of the best hitters in the nation - and by most accounts, she is. But what distinguishes Munoz is her instinctual capacity to read defenses, find the holes and snap her arm like she's cracking a whip.

[+] EnlargeKylin Munoz
Kevin Casey for ESPNRISEKylin Munoz was a 2007 All American Honorable Mention.

"She can just crank on a ball," says Dave Weitl, Munoz's club coach. "But she also hits the ball smartly. She doesn't get blocked often. Not just because she gets really high - she just has an innate ability to see where the block is. I don't know if she sees it as much as she feels it."

Over the last few years, Munoz has blossomed into one of the most dominant volleyball players in the country. As a junior, she compiled 412 kills and was named to the Class 4A All-State first team. PrepVolleyball.com rates her as a Top 50 recruit in the Class of 2009. Last but not least, the Seattle Times All-Star has committed to play for Brigham Young next fall.

"Kylin is kind of our go-to player," Weitl says. "She's definitely one of the 10 best players in the country in her class, and she might be one of the five best players in the nation."

Weitl has seen it up close, as Munoz has helped the Washington Volleyball Academy club team reach new heights. Take last summer, when Munoz, a rising junior at the time, carried WVA to the Junior Olympics gold division virtually on her back. The tournament is a series of round robin-style pools, which whittles down the field from 48 to 24 to eventually eight teams.

WVA was facing a Minnesota-based team called Northern Lights to become the last of those eight teams with a chance to win the national tournament. Adding to the tension was the fact that the tournament was held in Minneapolis that year, and Northern Lights had the crowd on its side.

"They were all tall, all incredibly skilled," Weitl says. "We have this prime-time Friday night match, and Kylin hit like .457, had like 24 kills. She was unstoppable, and it was the biggest match of her career, the biggest match in our team's history. Kylin was up for it. She just took over." "We had been working that whole season just for that moment to advance at nationals," Munoz says. "When it comes down to it, it's a volleyball match, and you have to keep it in that perspective so you don't get too nervous."

That's another asset of Munoz's -- poise.

"She doesn't seem to get nervous," Weitl says. "If she makes a mistake now, she's so comfortable with herself, you can't tell. Her facial expression, her body language, it doesn't change. She might shank a dig or a serve and you don't even see it."

This past summer, Munoz again vaulted WVA to new heights, helping the team qualify for the open division in the Junior Olympics for the first time in club history.

But most compelling about Munoz is her spiking ability. Playing on the right side, Munoz sometimes attracts two blockers when she jumps in the air. She has a standing jump of 9-9, a one-step jump of 10-1 and the ability to find the opening in the defense. If they block the line, she finds the angle. If they block the angle, she hits it down the line. Hard to believe Munoz was virtually the opposite of her current self as recently as three years ago. Though both her parents have a history in volleyball, Munoz started as a basketball player. Her height -- she's always been among the tallest girls in her class - helped her in that arena. In seventh grade she tried out for the volleyball team and loved it. Within a year, she was playing club with WVA.

Weitl recalls his first impressions of Munoz.

"She was lanky, she was soft," Weitl says. "I don't want to say slow, but she wasn't aggressive. She didn't hit hard. She had this slow arm, which might've been psychological. She just didn't want to hit hard."

"When she first started, we'd practically laugh," says April Munoz, Kylin's mom and the new head coach at Monroe after serving as an assistant each of the past three years. "She'd go up for a spike and they were rainbow shots."

But Munoz ascended in the volleyball world at a rapid pace. Weitl set her on a program to help develop her spiking and, more importantly, her ball-control skills.

At 6-foot-2 and with such a high vertical, Munoz is an archetype for the front line. As such, she played almost exclusively there during her first year in high school, often rotating out when she had to move to the back.

Weitl tried broadening that base, forcing Munoz to become a more complete player and making her learn how to bump, pass and dig.

"That's one of the key elements that makes her one of the best players in the country," Weitl says. "Most people (in the back row) are more soccer player profile types -- 5-8, 5-9, quick. But she's got the coordination and agility of a 5-8 girl in a 6-2 frame with great strength and a fast arm."

That's part of what attracted so many recruiters to Munoz. She started getting contacted her sophomore year, ultimately settling on BYU, where she felt most at ease with the players and coaching staff.

Weitl says Munoz is one of the few girls he's coached who has a chance to play beyond college.

"She could probably find a team professionally to play on right now," Weitl says, pointing out international indoor volleyball leagues Munoz could latch on with. "She's that mature a hitter already. She certainly has the ability to play beyond college, either in our national team program or professionally."

For now, Munoz is just concentrating on improving her all-around game.

"I'm actually learning to love back row as much as front row," Munoz says. "It's as exciting getting a kill as it is digging out a hard hit. I wanna be able to be effective in the front row and back row."

Munoz's monumental improvement has already made her one of the best in the country. And with instincts to match her physical prowess, she's far from done.