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Photo by Vince Pugliese

Zana Muno of Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) will head to UCLA to play volleyball, both indoor and sand.

If you were seeking the perfect combination for a two-player beach volleyball team, you'd likely pattern it after the most successful tandem duo of all time – Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor.

And why not? The pair has three Olympic Gold Medals.

Walsh is a bit shy of 6-foot-3 and May is 5-9. They complement one another with their front row net and back row skills. Other countries have patterned their two-player teams after the American duo, like silver medal winners at the 2012 London Olympic Games, 6-1 April Ross and 6-0 Jenny Kessy.

As a matter of fact, only one of the top 10 players in the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) is shorter than 6 feet tall.

Courtesy photo

Zana Muno, left, and Sarah Sponcil have not only<br>become nationally prominent on the hardwood, they<br>have become a powerful tandem on the sand<br>volleyball circuit as well.

But a pair of outstanding high school volleyball players are breaking that mold. Each is barely 5-10 in their shoes. However, when you mention their names – Zana Muno and Sarah Sponcil – in volleyball circles, eyes widen and smiles broaden.

"You might not find two more athletic people," said Wes Sponcil, Sarah's dad and her assistant high school coach at Veritas Prep (Phoenix). "They are truly great athletes and competitors. They do it all on a volleyball court."

Muno's Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) coach Kristin Gorman says "I don't think there is a more instrumental player than Zana in California. She is our No. 1 setter, No. 1 hitter, No. 1 defender, No. 1 passer and No. 1 blocker."

Veritas Prep coach Wes Goodwin simply says Sponcil "is not replaceable. It's just not possible."

Goodwin and Gorman say their player is the best athlete on campus. The senior is a three-time MaxPreps All-American and on the MaxPreps watch list for National Player of the Year. She has led Veritas Prep (Phoenix) to three state 5A titles and a runnerup 4A finish in 2013.

Sponcil, who was named Arizona's Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year in 2012, received a five-year volleyball scholarship from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, where she will play indoor for four years and one year on the beach.

Muno, who has verbally committed to play court and sand volleyball at UCLA, is also a standout on the track, where she reached the California Interscholastic Federation state track meet in the 400 meters and 4x100 relay events. And the junior has her share of soccer honors as well.

"She is truly an outstanding athlete," said Gorman. "Her strength is her skill level and the ability to see the full court. But she is a fantastic leader."

Goodwin's assessment of Sponcil is similar. "Sarah is so powerful and quick. She is a great-hitting setter and she reads the other team better than anyone. She is also a great leader. We were very young this year, but she always found a way to get the point."

Statistically, each leads her high school team in most categories. Sponcil led all Arizona hitters in kills (6.8 average) and still found time to dish out more than 200 assists and record more than 550 digs. She ranks ninth nationally in hitting.

While their stats were impressive playing all over the court, they would have been off the charts had they played only one position during the season.

"We use Zana everywhere," said Gorman. "There were games where she played each position."

It could be said that Sponcil and Muno mirror one another – both indoor and out.

Muno and Sponcil built their reputations indoors on the court. But their futures might be outdoors in the sand, where they are rapidly taking center stage. As a 16-year-old in 2012, Muno teamed with three different sand players to become the first athlete in the 19-year history of junior beach volleyball to win the three major events on the AAU National Beach Tour.

But this year, Muno paired up with Sponcil and despite their lack of height, they tamed the beaches of southern California. They captured the California Beach Volleyball Association Cal Cup 18-under state championship Sept. 1 and won the CBVA Santa Monica/Ocean Park End of Summer Open tournament Sept. 21.

Photo by Mitchell B. Reibel

Sarah Sponcil has dominated Arizona prep volleyball,<br>and will be moving on to play court and sand<br>volleyball at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

In October, they came within two points of reaching the main draw at the AVP Championships at Huntington Beach, suffering a 21-19, 12-21, 19-17 loss in a third-round qualifying match.

"We're like the same person almost," said Sponcil. "It's weird because we jump really high and don't need to be tall girls.

"More importantly, we have the same attitude. We're out there to win ... not just to play around," added Sponcil. "We both hit right or left, play every position. It's been great from the start ... we just started communicating well and the same way. We just hit it off."

Muno echoed Sponcil.

"She (Sponcil) challenges me to be better," said Muno. "We are both so competitive and very versatile. We just both want to win so much that we find a way to win. We have that same drive."

That "drive" is what got them in that AVP spotlight in October, but it is what followed that better defines their "drive."

Following the AVP tournament, Muno returned to the court and led Notre Dame to a five-set win over Louisville to help put her team in playoff position. She was playing volleyball for 11 hours that Saturday.

Sponcil returned to Arizona and played six matches in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, helping Veritas Prep place fourth in the bronze division. Muno said that although they lost in the AVP event, it was a wake-up call.

"With more practice, I feel like we can be a pretty dangerous team," said Muno. "Pro players told us how impressed they were with us."

Photo by Vince Pugliese

Muno is also a track star at Notre Dame.

Both players say they think sand helps their indoor game more than outdoor because it helps their jumping.

And they like indoors because it is the "ultimate team sport."

"But it's a very different game," said Sponcil. "Indoors is a little more frustrating because I can be on and one of my teammates can be off. With sand, you only have one other person to depend on. It's easier to control with two people."

Muno said beach is more "physically demanding. Movement can't be specialized.

"Volleyball is my passion and it doesn't matter whether it's indoors or outdoors," said Muno. "I just like getting as many touches as I can. I just want to play."

While Muno believes she is more successful on the beach, Sponcil says the court has been good to her.

"I've been to nationals 11 times, have three state titles and was honored to receive the Gatorade award," said Sponcil. "On the court is where I am most recognizable, but certainly have been getting noticed on sand recently."

And despite not fitting the mold as a beach volleyball team, getting noticed is likely to become commonplace.



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