COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 20, 2013) – On Dec. 8, the U.S. beach volleyball team of Suzanne (Zana) Muno and Sarah Sponcil qualified USA Volleyball for a position at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. Read that story here.
The duo went a perfect 6-0 at the NORCECA Central Zone Girls’ Qualification Tournament in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, ultimately defeating Canada’s Megan and Nicole McNamara in the final, 21-19, 19-21, 16-14.
The U.S. delegation to the tournament also included the boys' team of Louis Richard and Torey (T.J.) DeFalco, who finished second, and also National Team Coach Jon Aharoni.
We caught up with Zana and Sarah to find out about their experience.
What were your thoughts and emotions going into the tournament?
Zana Muno: This was my first time playing internationally! I was so excited to get this opportunity! I wasn't really nervous because I knew that I had nothing to lose and that I had a really strong partner and great coaches so I was in great hands!
Sarah Sponcil: This was my first time playing internationally. We were notified about playing in Puerto Rico 10 days prior to the tournament… late notice! I was extremely happy to be called to play in it. I was more nervous than usual because you are representing your country to qualify in the Youth Olympic Games which is very cool to say, but a lot of pressure. Neither Zana nor I had international experience so this also added to the pre-tournament jitters, not knowing what to expect!
Did the rainy weather make playing more difficult?
ZM: The rain was amazing! It completely fired Sarah and me up. As soon as it started to rain we got so excited to dive around in the mud! And we are both competitors and like to win dirty. The rain turned the sand into mud, which made it harder to move. We often got stuck in on defense so we didn't get balls up that we normally would, which was really frustrating.
SS: The weather was very different than I was used to. It was inconsistent. It would be sunny for part of the day and then it would downpour for 10 minutes, and then clear back up later in the day. On the last day it was overcast almost the whole day and it rained quite a bit which left the courts in bad condition. After it would rain there would be huge puddles of water, making the court very muddy and hard to play in. Some of the girls would disagree with me, but I thought playing in the mud and rain was one of the best parts of the trip! Just the feeling of walking off the court covered in mud from head to toe after winning was very rewarding!
Walk us through your final match. It looks like it was quite the battle! How did you guys pull through and come away with the win?
ZM: The final match was a roller coaster! We didn't have much of a plan except to play our game and not worry about what happened on the other side of the net. We wanted to make them adjust to us instead of changing how we play to adapt to them. The first game, I felt like we had control and had the momentum! The second game, we started out down and it was a fight to get back in it and Sarah and I definitely felt the pressure. In the third game, they came out with the momentum and at one point we were down by 4 at 12-8. We took a timeout and Sarah just told me that "we need to leave it all on the court and give it all we had.” They missed their next three serves and we got back in the game. It's all kind of a blur. I just try to play and not think too much!
SS: Right before the final match started it rained pretty hard for a good 10 minutes leaving both courts covered in water, and turning the courts into mud baths. After the first seven points, we had to stop the game because the courts were so slippery that they said it was becoming too dangerous for us to play in; so they put on more dirt on the guys court and we ended up finishing the remainder of the match there. The match overall was definitely a battle. We wanted to use every bit of energy we had left in that third game and I think that's exactly what we did. After coming out of that timeout the Canadians missed three of their serves, which helped us a lot. But those three points didn’t get us that win. We just kept focusing on winning the next point, and the next point. There was never a doubt in our minds.
What was going through your mind during that final match point?
ZM: On match point I just kept saying "we are not losing." Sarah and I did our "butt bump," which fired us up! When we won, I tackled Sarah and she had no idea we won because she had not been looking at the score, which I thought was hilarious!
SS: I knew we were losing but we just needed to play our game and not worry about the score, and let the playing speak for itself, and that's what happened! After we won the last point, Zana gave me a huge hug and I asked her "Why are you hugging me?” and she said that we won! I had no idea until that moment. I was so focused on playing my game that there was really no need to look at the score!
How does it feel knowing that you’ve earned a spot for the U.S. at the Youth Olympics? What does that mean to you?
ZM: I’m so excited to have gotten that spot for the U.S.! To be able to do something that will benefit the USA program is an honor!
SS: After winning that match point and knowing that we qualified the U.S. to go to the Youth Olympic Games was probably one of the best feelings I've ever experienced!
What was your favorite off-court part of the tournament?
ZM: My favorite part of the trip was definitely bonding with the coaches, the boys’ team and especially Sarah! We had so much fun so many laughs and inside jokes! Another memorable experience was when two little Puerto Rican kids followed Sarah and I around all day asking us questions and cheering for us at all our games! We gave them hats and pins they asked to take pictures with us! It was very humbling and just something I’ll never forget!
SS: We were not able to do much sightseeing while we were there but I think the part that I enjoyed most while I was on the trip is being able to bond with my coaches and teammates, and getting to know all of them. It was such a blast! Being from Arizona, I didn't know the guys very well, but it was so much fun hanging out with Zana and them!