The last name Muehlebach came up in a tweet the other day signifying a record established in Tucson.
It was not the Muehlebach that might come to mind for most Tucsonans — Matt Muehlebach’s record of never losing a game at McKale Center in a four-year career with Arizona.
It was not Matt’s triple-double in the 1990 Pac-10 tournament, the first in Arizona’s program and the only one in tournament history.
Matt was not the athlete responsible for the record of note that occurred Oct. 22, and he is fine with that.
In fact, he would rather his name not be mentioned prominently, especially when it was his daughter Megan who achieved the record.
An opposite hitter and outside hitter at 5-foot-7, Megan broke the Salpointe freshman record for aces with 12 against Cholla in the Lancers’ 3-0 victory. She also tied current Lancer school-record holder Sofia Peña, a senior defensive specialist and libero.
“I don’t want to take anything away from her accomplishment by having the focus on me,” said Matt, a humble and down-to-earth person who is one of the many good guys to come through Arizona’s program.
Megan is the only freshman with Salpointe’s varsity team, which is 11-2 and will challenge for a 4A state championship.
When Megan was serving ace after ace toward the record, the cheering voices of her teammates grew louder and louder. That gave her a boost and a sense of belonging.
“It was really exciting because it was the first time ever doing something as cool as that, I guess,” Megan said of the record. “My entire team was cheering me on a lot and they were supportive throughout. They were screaming. It was so exciting and such a fun time. I loved it.”
Congrats to Freshman OPP/OH Megan Muehlebach on breaking the Freshman record for Aces in a Match with 12 aces! She also tied current Lancer school record holder Senior DS/L Sofia Peña! Congrats Megan! #LancerNation #SCVB🏐
Her younger sister Caroline, a seventh grader, is another promising volleyball talent who will also draw headlines when she is in high school and beyond.
Megan and Caroline participated in the gamut of youth sports including softball, soccer, swimming and basketball, but volleyball drew their interest the most because of their friends and exposure to the Zona Volleyball Club and Dave Rubio’s camp.
“I started playing a lot more and I started to enjoy it,” Megan said.
Matt and his wife Julie have not applied pressure on their daughters. They have not chosen the athletic interests of their daughters.
Megan’s first state-playoff experience will begin Nov. 14. Matt, a veteran of NCAA tournaments at Arizona, said he knows to give her daughter some needed space at that time.
“I’ll probably just kind of let her go and do her thing,” Matt said. “Just be there … I just love going to the games. It’s super, high-quality athleticism. They’re really skilled. They’re really athletic. It’s exciting to watch.
“There’s some great teams in Tucson. There’s obviously a ton of great teams in Phoenix. It will just be fun to watch. I’m looking forward to it.”
Megan’s acceptance by veteran Salpointe coach Heather Moore-Martin and by her teammates is the most important element of Megan’s confidence to succeed at the varsity level at such a young age.
Moore-Martin, whose head coaching career dates to 1998 when she started the boys program at Catalina, her alma mater, mentioned she has a history of playing freshmen at the varsity level.
She provided the recent example of Peyton Lewis, a junior with Pepperdine’s beach volleyball program, and Alanna Duarte contributing as freshmen for the Lancers and ultimately being part of state championship teams.
“I’ve always loved to pull my really good freshmen up because it exposes them to a lot and it makes the other kids in the program step it up as well,” Moore-Martin said. “You know, ‘Here’s a freshman coming up and she’s nipping at my heels.’
“Megan’s also done a really good job of fitting in. She’s easy to get along with. She’s easy to coach and she’s a skilled volleyball player. She is making really good progress. We’re really happy to have her on varsity.”
Moore-Martin said along with being a freshman at such a high level comes growing pains. The coaches are working on “changing some things in her game right now,” Moore-Martin said, to help Megan improve and excel within the Lancers’ system.
“She’s done a good job of dealing with it with an understanding of, ‘Hey, I need to get worse before I get better,'” Moore-Martin said.
Megan called the initial of experience of fitting in with older players, such as Division-I talent Andrea Owens, a senior outside hitter, as “really nerve-wracking.” Megan was at ease when her teammates became encouraging from the start.
“They are super supportive. They are obviously amazing players. I want to be as good as them. I look up to them and want to play as good as them,” Megan said.
Matt knows what it’s like when freshmen come into an established program and try to earn their stripes, as he calls it.
When he was a freshman with Lute Olson’s program, he was part of the famous Gumbies, the exuberant young players on the bench who cheered on the likes of Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott when the Wildcats advanced to their first Final Four in 1988. Matt and the late Sean Rooks redshirted that year as freshmen.
“(The freshmen) have to come in and be respectful of the older kids,” Matt said. “They’ve been through it. They’ve seen it. They’ve got the experience and the talent. She’s doing that.
“When I became a senior in college, you want those younger people to kind of earn it. That’s what she’s trying to do. They are certainly very supportive. They want her to earn it and prove it on the court. That’s part of the game.”
Another intriguing aspect of the 1987-88 team in comparison with Matt and Megan is the fact many of Matt’s teammates later had daughters who succeeded in volleyball.
Jud Buechler’s daughter Reily went on to be an All-Pac-12 selection as a senior outside hitter at UCLA in 2017. Reily’s mother, Lindsey Hahn, played volleyball at Arizona from 1986 to 1989.
Kerr’s daughter Maddy became a standout player at Cal from 2013 to 2016, selected to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team as a libero and later to the All-Pac-12 Academic Team.
Harvey Mason’s daughter Mia, whose mother, Jeannine Sharp Mason, was an Arizona volleyball player in 1987 and 1988, played for Rubio’s program with the Wildcats before ending her career as a defender with the Wildcats’ beach volleyball program last season.
Joe Turner’s daughter Jade was an accomplished 6-foot-4 middle blocker at Arizona from 2014 to 2018.
“It was really fun for me to watch the guys who were a little before me (with their daughters in volleyball),” Matt said. “I don’t know why that is or why a lot of them went to volleyball.
“It’s really been fun. In fact, Megan, I remember taking her down there watching Maddy Kerr and watching Reily Buechler. That’s kind of where she fell in love with it.”
Megan wants to attend UCLA like Reily and compete in beach volleyball.
“That’s been my dream since I was 11,” she said.
Matt is an analyst with the Pac-12 Network, so he is knowledgeable about breaking things down — for basketball. He is also an attorney who recently became the senior vice president and general counsel for 5Lights, which partners with entrepreneurs and innovators in growing businesses to manifest their operation.
A playful father-daughter exchange is Megan telling her dad, “You were a basketball player and you comment about basketball, but you don’t know much about volleyball.”
She also jokes that Matt has told her “multiple times” about owning the undefeated record at McKale Center.
She is respectful of Matt and her mom, especially for the importance they place on academics and the way they are always there for her.
“They’re very strict about my grades because obviously grades are important if you want to be an athlete,” Megan said. “They’re also super supportive. If I am going through a rough time in school or something like, they are super supportive and try to help me get through it.
“They’re super easy to talk to and they are also super supportive in sports if I had a rough game, anything like that.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.