‘Volleyball is a game of mistakes,’ and UMFK’s team has not made many this season

UMFK volleyball head coach Jessany Munoz, left, talks with assistant coach Sweet Vaimoui, during team practice, Thursday. (Don Eno | SJVT/FhF)

FORT KENT, Maine — Athletic teams at the University of Maine at Fort Kent have started off the school year with success, with both soccer teams ranked number one in the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) standings and the school’s volleyball team ranked number four in the nation.

For volleyball head coach and former UMFK player Jessany Munoz, however, some unfinished business from last year occupies part of her mind even as her team looks to add to a USCAA leading 10-match winning streak. The team is 13-2 overall.

“For us, losing all of our games at nationals last year was tough,” Munoz said on Thursday, prior to a team practice.

Last year was the California native’s first coaching the team. This year she has tasked herself and her players with focusing on consistency and a strong work ethic.

“I am huge on speed and rapid-fire drills,” said Munoz. “We want things to be perfect every time.”

Munoz, who admitted her short stature forced her, as a player, to focus on speed and perfection, said this year’s team success comes from hard work, anticipating the next play and having clean passing and striking.

“Our motto is, ‘Clean it up,’ and players are always holding each other accountable,” the head coach said.

Thursday, Munoz had players go over several rapid passing drills, with multiple balls in the air and players circulating between positions, having them do it over and over until things went smoothly.

“Volleyball is a game of mistakes,” she said. “The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins.”

Adriana Gutierrez, a junior from California, said this season’s 1-3 loss to St. Joseph’s College in Standish was a tough defeat.

“We put up a fight against them,” she said. The Bengals won one game in that match and only lost the other three by a combined 10 points.

Gutierrez said she is impressed with how the players have gelled this year.

Adriana Gutierrez, a junior on UMFK’s volleyball squad, dives for a ball at Thursday’s practice. (Don Eno | SJVT/FhF)

“We’ve proven to ourselves we can come together as a team,” Gutierrez said.

“We are a much stronger team than last year,” echoed teammate Skye Parker, a senior from Hawaii. “Everyone on the team is so versatile.”

Even with that versatility, coach Munoz stresses players knowing their situational roles in games. Such awareness and doing the little things perfectly add up to victory, she said.

“Do your job,” she told her players during a break in practice.

With only eight matches on the horizon before the USCAA playoffs in Delhi, New York, in November, Munoz is unlikely to ease up at practice. Thursday, she picked on even small mistakes and stressed the need for proper technique and good communication on the floor.

“I look forward to beating pretty much everybody,” Parker said with a smile, although she admitted to especially looking forward to playing St. Joseph’s again.

With only one player from Maine, sophomore Tate Dolley from Machias, most of the players are from warmer climes such as Hawaii, California and Florida.

“We all bring something to the table,” said Gutierrez, who added that she is from a small rural town.

“When I got here, though, I thought, ‘Wow this is a very small town,’” she said with a chuckle. The UMFK campus and local residents, however, proved to be very friendly and welcoming, she said.

“UMFK is very diverse. I like the friends I’ve made here,” she said.

For Munoz, who grew up in northern California, her two years as a UMFK player and her time in the St. John Valley also left an impression.

“To me, it’s home,” she said.

Munoz started playing volleyball in high school and then volunteered at local volleyball camps. That led to playing, helping and coaching at the junior college and club levels.

After graduating from UMFK in 2015, the former Bengal looked to northern Maine and approached the university’s athletic director, Bill Ashby.

“I called Bill and said, ‘I’m coming back,’” said Munoz.

The second year head coach said she knew what the campus and community had to offer, even to students from far away places.

“There is so much here,” she said, especially for players who may have grown up in large cities.

From the endless outdoor activities to the strong support from campus staff and local residents, Munoz said UMFK has a lot to offer student athletes.

As a coach, Munoz said she is very happy her team is finding such success this season. And, as a sports fan and UMFK alumni, she is excited to see other Bengal teams continue to play well.

“All the (UMFK) teams work so hard,” she said.

The Bengals next home volleyball match is on Thursday, Oct. 5, when they host the University of Maine at Machias, with the first game set to begin in 1 p.m.

After that, the team heads to Massachusetts on Oct. 7 and 8, to close out the regular season, with matches against Elms College, Dean College and Fisher College.

The volleyball team is hoping for a third consecutive appearance in the national tournament in November.

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