Juan Varon Munoz: An Appreciation
A look at the career of Bethune-Cookman University tennis player Juan Varon Munoz, who tragically lost his life on September 15 in a traffic accident. The Wildcat family celebrated his life with a candlelight vigil on campus Sunday evening.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To appreciate Juan Varon Munoz’ contribution to the Bethune-Cookman tennis program, you have to start with his 2013 record while playing hurt.
Juan played number one singles the entire season. He went 2-13. A forgettable record at first – and any - glance, but there’s more to it.
The nagging leg injury that hampered his range and disrupted his timing never went away. Still, Juan and Head Coach Tim Pleasant knew that the Wildcats’ best option for success at singles was for Juan to play number one anyway, giving his Wildcat teammates a better chance of scoring the most singles points possible.
So Juan soldiered on, slowed by injury, taking his lumps against the opponents’ best player. Thirteen out of 15 times he did just that. It was the tennis equivalent of “taking one for the team.”
“His level of play was still there. His effort was still there. His game was still there,” said Santiago Lobelo, one of Juan’s teammates. “It was never about the record, it was about all of us. He was always taking care of us. A very good friend.”
Juan made a promising debut in Spring 2012 playing number two singles. He started the season with three consecutive victories and registered a win over Oklahoma Christian’s Martin Poboril, ranked second nationally in NAIA. He finished 11-9 overall and garnered a second-team berth on the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) All-Conference team.
His abilities on the court were respected by his teammates.
“Amazing volleys,” Lobello said. “You look at how Juan volleyed and it was professional level.”
Gilbert Rotich appreciated Juan’s serving.
“He had a big serve,” Rotich said. “He was a little guy [5-8] but he could hit the ball.”
Injuries started taking their toll, but Juan found a way to contribute – in doubles – as the 2012-13 season approaches.
On opening weekend of fall play, the majority of the men’s team travelled to the University of Florida for a tournament, but Juan remained in Daytona Beach and competed at the nearby Embry-Riddle Open. Pleasant was figuring out how his doubles roster was going to shape up, but one answer came out of nowhere.
Juan struggled at singles, but found the right doubles combination with Seve Day. The duo won their first seven matches in fall play – winning two flight championship in as many weeks – and made a charge at HBCU Nationals, falling in the championship of their flight. He and Day would play number one doubles for the majority of the 2013 spring season.
And it was at number one doubles where Juan registered his signature victory. Against Florida State, he and Day combined to defeat the Seminoles’ Andres Bucaro and Benjamin Lock, who were ranked 27th in the nation. FSU won the doubles point and the overall match, 7-0, but it’s just like the singles record, there’s more to the stats.
“We were all very happy about that win,” Rotich said. “Juan was very proud of that.”
Off the court, Juan was just as admired.
“He had a very unique outlook on life,” said Graduate Assistant Coach Emil Vassilev. “He used to rap in Spanish with my name: Mi nobre es Emo, Emo VassilEV... He always made us feel good."
“You couldn’t ask for a better friend,” said Diego Garavito. “I love him like crazy and I didn't know how much he was loved until he went to heaven.”
Juan's influence was just as strong with the women's team.
"He'd be one of the first people at practice yelling `Let's Go Wildcats' " said Ancia Ifill. "He would always ask how you thought you were playing, and if he had some pointers that would help, he would NOT hesitate to share them."
Gaby Chinchilla, who led the women's team with 16 singles victories and 11 in doubles appreciated Juan's counsel.
"He always supported me and the advice he gave me was pretty good," Chinchilla said. "He helped me improve my game, but I'm going to remember the fun times, especially when he would sing."
Pleasant said that Juan remained confident in his abilities and even more so in his place.
“The day before [the accident] happened he told me he would rather play injured than sit the season,” Pleasant said. “He was one of the best players in the conference, doubles and singles, before his injuries and his goal was to be number one this year.
“He was a true leader,” Pleasant concluded. “ Wonderful person, wonderful player. Always greeted you with a handshake and a smile and never left the practice court without saying goodbye.”