Student-Athlete of the Week: Mario Muñoz
November 7, 2018
Niwot entered the 2018 boys soccer season with four first-time starters on the back line, but stopping goals turned out to be the least of their worries down the stretch, thanks to senior keeper Mario Munoz.
Under Munoz's vocal tutelage, the untested Cougar defense was solid all year, especially against powerhouse offenses such as Air Academy and Legacy. They allowed just 18 goals in 17 games, and kept Niwot competitive even in their six losses, which were all by a single point. Munoz and the defense also posted six shutouts in 2018, including a 3-0 win over conference foe Centaurus on Oct. 4 to avenge their loss in the 2017 state semifinals.
Of course, shutouts and one-goal margins are nothing new for the veteran Munoz, who has "consistently been one of the top goalkeepers in the state," according to Niwot head coach Stephen Dimit.
"Mario has been the cornerstone of our success for the past three years," Dimit said of the veteran, who also led his team to the post-season three times. "He has a competitor's attitude, and he approaches every practice and game as a challenge to be at his best."
Munoz was elevated to the Cougar varsity squad as a sophomore, and then pressed into service without much warning.
"I was expecting to ride the bench the whole time and support the starter," he recalled. "Then he wasn't having a good game, so they put me in. I was still eating seeds on the bench, and I had to spit them out."
In the 48 games that followed, Munoz recorded nearly 300 saves, while allowing just over one goal per game. He posted 15 shutouts, and surrendered two or more goals just twelve times, but never more than three in a single game.
Munoz seems to have a high tolerance for the pressure that comes with being "the gatekeeper to all the team's wins and losses," and even called being in the spotlight "fun." He said the key to success in the high-profile position is equanimity.
"There are downtimes for sure," he said. "You can't let it get to you, because if you do, then you're going to have a really bad season. There will be rough spots, but you just have to get through them....As emotional as it gets, you have to be a rock for your team."
When he's not out on the pitch with the Cougars, Muñoz is probably indulging his love for the sport via video game. In the classroom, he has been taking AP and honors courses since freshman year, and considers Mrs. Ranglos and Mr. Burton among his favorite teachers. He plans to attend college next year and study business, hopefully in a place where he can also continue his soccer career.