SF State volleyball coach Jill Muhe’s greatest victory was technically a loss.
In the middle of her professional beach volleyball career at a tournament in Santa Barbara in 2005, Muhe scored an ace on Misty May-Treanor, whom along with her partner Kerri Walsh-Jennings, had just won the first of three Olympic gold medals the previous year. The point came late in the match but gave her and her partner Nicole Audette, the lead. Muhe lost the matchup, but scoring the ace and the opportunity to play against a pair of Olympic champions was the peak of Muhe’s career.
“We finished ninth in the tournament, so we finished in the top 10, and that was a great achievement, but what I remember is that match playing Misty and Kerri; playing the best in world, coming in with a game plan and executing it and hanging with the best in the world,” Muhe said.
It was that match that continued Muhe on a journey that landed her the job as the women’s volleyball head coach at SF State, where she is now in her rookie season.
Muhe’s passion for volleyball evolved from watching her father coach high school in Walnut Creek, Calif., her hometown. She got her coaching start helping him at a volleyball summer camp when she was in high school.
“He ran a summer camp where high school players were the coaches and he said, ‘You’re in high school now, is this something you want to do?’ I said ‘I think so.’ He said, ‘Let’s try it.’ I didn’t know because I have to decide who to play and who not to play, it’s kind of scary,” Muhe said.
Her father’s encouragement lead to a devotion that would define Muhe’s career. She landed a spot on the UC Davis squad where in 1996 she won the Most Valuable Player award after the team made the playoffs, just falling a couple points shy of the third round.
“We really had a great year and we had really been building over my entire collegiate career, because we had been playing together for so long,” she said.
When her college career came to a close, Muhe’s love for volleyball lingered.
“I was looking for the next challenge. Not being the tallest person in the world, (but) being a coach’s daughter, I was able to do all of the skills,” she said.
In 2010, Muhe landed a coaching job at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa. She lead the team to a 20 win season in her first year, a season that earned them a berth to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Tournament. Her success in the Midwest wasn’t enough, and Muhe longed to return back home to the Bay Area.
Last year, she saw that SF State needed a new volleyball head coach, and jumped at the opportunity.
“I played in this conference when I was at UC Davis and Davis was Division II. It’s like coming home and coming back to my roots,” Muhe said.
The Gators were happy to see a fresh face at the helm, and players marveled at Muhe’s enthusiastic coaching style and antics on the court.
“You always know how she’s feeling, which is good. She’s really into the game and puts a lot of her emotions into it and gets us fired up,” junior outside hitter Kelly Ostello said.
It’s that emotion that led to one of the funnier moments of the season thus far. She was so excited during a match a few weekends ago at The Swamp, that it caused her to hit the floor.
“There was a really intense rally going on and she rolled on the floor and did a stop, drop, and roll,” outside hitter Katie Judd said.
A successful career as a volleyball player that saw her take Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings to the limit has brought her back home coaching the sport she loves.
“I want everybody to love this sport as much as I do. I want everyone to understand as much as I do. I just think it’s cool,” Muhe said. “I can be having the worst day in the world, and someone can ask me a volleyball question, and my voice will change and I will perk up.”
So far, Muhe has lead the SF State volleyball team to a 3-3 in conference play and 8-6 overall. That conference record puts them in seventh place in their 12-team CCAA conference.