April 29, 2020
By Evan Lepler - "Disc In" Interview Series Archive
An ultimate player since the fourth grade, Marc Muñoz exudes passion on and off the field. He cares about his friends, his family, and his teammates, and he became an AUDL pro when he was 18. But if not for flyer that caught his eye somewhat serendipitously, he might have never put himself out there to become a member of the Seattle Cascades.
Muñoz was just 17 years old when he saw the sign advertising Cascades tryouts prior to the 2018 season. In fact, the tryout process had already begun, and while other kids may have immediately said ‘oh well, I missed my chance,’ and moved on, the Franklin High School senior ambitiously decided to reach out and ask if he could participate in the final day of the tryout experience anyway. He was welcomed with open arms, though few if any could have anticipated how the story would evolve from there. Amazingly, he learned he made the team on his 18th birthday, and he has been active for all but one of the Cascades’ 24 regular season games over the past two years.
He turned 20 this past February—he’s one day older than San Jose’s Keenan Laurenceuno—and Muñoz is eager to begin his third AUDL campaign with the Cascades. Aside from his debut a couple years ago, perhaps his most memorable game with Seattle came this past June, when the Cascades went on the road and edged San Jose by one, 26-25, a game in which Muñoz tallied a career-high four assists, along with one goal and two blocks, earning rave reviews from his teammates.
“He was doing everything for us,” Seattle’s Jay Boychuk told me after Muñoz’s dynamic performance. “Getting layout Ds, throwing perfect hucks, and getting crucial scores. Marc had an incredible game.”
Undeniably, the city of Seattle has built a reputation for its impressive youth ultimate scene, and the Cascades are hoping to gradually reap the dividends of all that early development. Although Muñoz has only experienced victory in six of his 23 games through two seasons in the league, there’s a growing belief that all the teenage reps that he and his other young teammates have endured will translate into greater team success in the years ahead. It certainly won’t hurt to have a few accomplished veterans, such as Sam Harkness, Joe Sefton, and Ben Snell, rejoining the roster in 2020 to help provide experienced leadership to the rest of the talented, developing core.
We know how good the veterans can be and what they can do on the field. For players like Muñoz and the rest of the Cascades’ next generation, we really have no idea what their potential ceilings might be. Consequently, among the countless reasons that we are hoping for ultimate’s return at some point this year, watching the AUDL’s top prospects taking the next steps toward stardom is pretty darn high on the list.
Between figuring out life and trying to stay in shape, Muñoz took some time to answer my questions about how he’s adapting during the pandemic, what he remembers from his AUDL debut, and the players who have inspired his style on the field. The conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.
Evan Lepler: Starting simply, how are you, where are you, and what's life been like in your current hometown over the past month?
Marc Muñoz: I am doing my best to make it through this tough time. I live in Kent, Washington with my parents. Life the last month has been pretty rough, but I’m trying my best to stay positive for my family and friends. I was recent working as an Administrative Assistant, but I was let go because of reorganization in my company. I am currently working at Phnom Phen Noodle House for one of my close friends’ family. I don’t know if you heard about Devin Cropp and his accident back in , but I have been close with his family for awhile now and am doing my best to help out with whatever I can for his family, especially his younger brother. As blessed as I am, they let me work at the restaurant during this weird time.
[Note: Devin Cropp was a high school senior and ultimate player in Seattle when he suffered serious injuries after being struck by a car while walking home from a game in September of 2017. Part of the story, partly through the lens of the Noodle House that Marc is now working at, can be read here: https://nwasianweekly.com/2018/04/phnom-penh-noodle-house-closing-co-owner-faces-mounting-medical-bills/]
EL: For those who aren't familiar with your background, can you share a bit about your everyday life and how its been impacted by the bizarre circumstances that the entire world is dealing with right now?
MM: Being let go at my first real job was really tough for me, and I didn’t know how to respond. I quickly responded by applying to multiple jobs and looking into work. Before I started at Phnom Phen Noodle House I was stuck at home. During the day, I had to watch over my little siblings and made sure that they were keeping up with school work sent home for them to do. As many have been doing during this time, I have been eating a whole bunch, sleeping a whole bunch and even cleaning the house a few hundred times. After realizing how out of shape I was getting, I decided to do daily workouts. Just had to make sure I was staying physically active everyday. I am currently running a few miles everyday, lifting, playing basketball and playing with my dog, Lilo.
EL: Ultimate obviously feels somewhat secondary to everything, but I'm definitely curious to ask how your life as an ultimate player has been impacted? How have you continued to train and prepare for the 2020 season amidst the restrictions that are in place?
MM: Life without ultimate has been the worst not gonna lie. I’ve been playing ultimate since the fourth grade at Kimball Elementary and went on to play at Asa Mercer Middle School and Franklin High School. I’ve had a few injuries that stopped me from playing for awhile but nothing like this to keep me at home and watching Ultiworld for a few hours a week. The Seattle Cascades have still been having virtual practices. It is a good way for the team to still be connected and to work on other things besides frisbee. We are constantly working on ways to interact with the media and things like player/group goals for the season. As a team, we are all responsible for being physically and mentally in shape for the season, if it does happen. One thing I want to be prepared for during the season is the big field. To prepare myself, I have been doing a few workouts dedicated to physical endurance.
EL: Before going further, can you enlighten me about your overall athletic background and explain how you got your start playing ultimate?
MM: The first sport that caught my attention was basketball. I believe I’ve played since I was in the second grade and am still continuing to play. I was never really a scorer, but more of a defender. I enjoy locking people up and running as much as I can on the court. You can catch me running from baseline to baseline and even laying out every now and then. Dennis Rodman is someone who made me fall in love with doing the little things that could help a team. At Franklin High School, I ran track during my 10th and 11th grade years. I ran the 100m dash and the 110m hurdle. I was decent at the hurdles and made it to Metros my junior year. I started playing ultimate because my family put me on [to it]. I grew up idolizing people like Khalif El-Salaam, my older brother, and Henry Phan. I met Khalif and Henry at a young age. They were my older cousins’ best friends and they always made it look some fun. It started from my older cousins putting his little brother and my older onto ultimate. Then, a year or two later, I watched my brother kill it at Asa Mercer Middle School. My interest grew and then I started at Kimball Elementary.
EL: It sure has become more and more common for 18-year-old high school seniors to make an impact on professional ultimate teams, but I still think it's noteworthy every time it occurs. What are your primary memories from trying out for the Cascades when you were either 17 or 18 and then learning that you made the team? Were you confident or did you surprise yourself through the process?
MM: I was 17 at the time and was getting ready for Worlds tryouts, which I had gotten invited to. I was working out every day and wanted to get as many reps as I could before the tryout. During the time, I was at a retreat with Age Up. It was a Saturday morning and as we were all eating breakfast and playing games, I came across the Seattle Cascades tryout flyer saying that it was the last day of tryout. I asked Hana Kawai if she could talk to [Cascades Owner] Xtehn [Titcomb] on letting me tryout. Right away, they said I could tryout. I left the retreat for a few hours to tryout. I didn’t think too much of it like I was actually going to make it, but I knew that I had to do my best to be ready for the Worlds tryout. I remember getting a few big layout D’s and exciting the sidelines. I think a week later on my 18th birthday, they announced that I was in the team. I was shocked! It blew my mind that I was good enough to make the team going to only one tryout.
EL: You made your AUDL debut for the Cascades on April 7, 2018 in a wild one-point win over Minnesota; what was that experience like? Were you nervous going into the game? Any memories from that game you're especially proud of or humbling "Welcome to the AUDL" moments that stand out?
MM: My first game was crazy cold from what I remember. I remember being on the D-line looking to get a block. My first “Welcome to the AUDL” moment was when I beat up line by a good five yards. I remember being like “Damn, everyone is too fast for me”. I think the best “Welcome to the AUDL” moment was when I saw my first few signs drawn my my family and friends. Made me feel like I really made it, but I knew that there had to be more work done.
EL: How would you characterize what the jump was like going from youth or high school ultimate to all of a sudden competing in the AUDL? How long did it take you to really begin to feel comfortable and confident on the field in AUDL games?
MM: I remember the first Cascades practice we went to a full-field scrimmage and after the point I was out of breath. I remember always being out of breath but always trying my best to hang with the best like Mark Burton. I remember when my high school team played at Spring Reign, I felt unstoppable!!! Like I remember getting a couple bookends and not being tired one bit. Finals come at Spring Reign and we are looking like a real mixed club team. Just being one of those players who could do anything and everything to help the team felt great. I felt way bigger than I actually was. And when I transitioned back to AUDL, feeling so small and worthless. At the end of the AUDL season, I remembered that to get to the top, you gotta start at rock bottom. And being surrounded by my community, family and friends, I was completely fine with it all.
EL: Do you have any favorite ultimate players, either people that you especially enjoy watching or individuals that you try and emulate when you take the field?
MM: The first player that I remember fanboying over was Jackelyne “Kobe” Nguyen! I remember watching her Callahan video with a close friend of mine and we both went crazy on how good she was. Going over to San Francisco to play her and the Flamethrowers was one of my favorite memories my rookie year. [Aside from her], back when Donnie Clark got his legendary layout D in Semis [in 2016] was the day I told myself that I’m going to be like him and make plays like that. Some players that inspire me to be as consistent as possible are Dennis Casio and June Rapisura, both my best friends who help me work hard and help me out on and off the field. There are so many players I look up to in this game but some people that I dedicate my game to are Devin Cropp, Miko Pugal, Ivan Lee, Otis Williams and Amy Nguyen. Somehow and someway, they motivate me to be the best that I can be.
EL: Aside from playing ultimate, what's something else that you're especially interested in or passionate about?
MM: I am really passionate about giving back to my community! With the help of Age Up, I am able to do that. My first big goal was to give back to all the programs that build me up as a player. Programs like: Aki Kurose Middle School, Asa Mercer Middle School, Seattle Seven Hills and DiscNW. Once I feel like I’ve given enough then I will expand and give to other communities.
EL: Lastly, what are you reading or watching at the moment? Any recommendations of a book, tv show, or movie that others would enjoy?
MM: At the moment I am trying to get back in the habit of reading old comic books that my dad used to collect. Some thing that I enjoy doing in my free time beside working out are coloring mandalas with my little siblings, listening to all types of music and watching anime. Some shows I watch are Demon Slayer and My Hero Academia.