UCLA standout makes seamless transition to the pro game
by Jon Hastings
Not many players follow up an NCAA championship in May with the kind of summer fireworks UCLA’s Zana Muno ignited on her home sands of Her-mosa Beach and Manhattan Beach a few months after graduation.
Muno, who played in one AVP event before entering the qualifier with Cal Poly’s Crissy Jones in Seattle in June (and that was as a 17-year-old with Sarah Sponcil), had tempered expectations of her plans to transition to the pro game after finishing her collegiate career. In fact, she was ready to apply to culinary school to get the next chapter of her life started. Four main draws later, cooking school is on the back burner. Muno will have to get her food fix watching the “British Baking Show.”
Muno, 23, and Jones burst onto the scene by winning nine matches in Hermosa Beach, garnering a lot of attention on their way to a third-place finish de-spite starting the event seeded 47th in the qualifier. Fans liked their aggressive style of play. The 6-2 Jones swatted balls at the net like she was standing on a ladder, and what did get by her was devoured by the fleet-footed Muno, who showed no fear in her transition hitting.
The performance was good enough to earn them a wildcard invitation three weeks later into the Manhattan Open, which they didn’t squander. They finished a strong ninth but were back in the qualifier two weeks later in Chicago before earning another ninth. It was in Chicago where Muno and Jones squared off with one of the world’s top teams in April Ross and Alix Klineman. A rough first set loss (21-8) was an eye-opener. “Yeah, a different level,” Muno says. “The shots were crisper, and it was harder to find space on their side of the net. But it was a great opportunity to learn some things and good to see what the next level is like.”
Things got better in a hurry for Muno and Jones in the second set. They let a late lead slip away to lose 22-20 in a set that accentuated their strength (they can score points with the best teams on tour) and their weakness (they give up points in bunches). No other team in Chicago scored more points in a single set against Ross and Klineman. “I think I get fatigued late in matches the deeper we get in tournaments,” she says. “That’s one reason we give up two, three or even four points in a row.”
One person who expected Muno’s quick success on the AVP Tour was UCLA head coach Stein Metzger. “I am not surprised at all how well Zana did this summer,” he says. “She is a gamer. If she sticks with it and continues to work on her technical discipline, I predict she will win many tournaments in her career.”
Muno was a big-time junior beach player who won three national AAU events with three different partners. She went to UCLA on an indoor scholarship as both a setter and a libero.
At 5-9, Muno seemed destined to become a beach defender since it’s compatible with her all-around skill set.
Muno won more than $10,000 on the AVP Tour in less than 60 days from July to mid-September, a stake that will help her train full time for 2020. She recruited Jones not only for her blocking talents but her mindset. “Crissy was an indoor player (Washington) for four years before she played beach at Cal Poly,” Muno says. “When you’re in college playing both, indoor comes first. So when you get to the beach season you’re not getting as many reps. I knew Crissy understood how to deal with that. Now if we practice full time we have plenty of room to improve.”
Being raised in an athletic family has been a big bonus for Muno. Her father (Lawrence) played football at Rutgers and spent a training camp with the Oakland Raiders. Her mother (Kim) was a professional golfer, and her brother (J.J.) played baseball at UC Santa Barbara and is currently in the Chicago White Sox organization.
“My family has been super supportive,” she says. “I could not think about pursuing pro beach volleyball without them.”