An emerging leader

Robert Galbreath photo BPHS Puncher and senior Jovany Munoz goes up for a basket against St. Stephens on Feb. 10. The Wyoming Coaches Association honored Munoz with 2A All-State and All-Conference honors for the 2022-2023 basketball season. Munoz was also named 2A West Conference Player of the Year.

Munoz earns basketball All-State honors

BIG PINEY – The gym became a second home for Big Piney High School Puncher boys’ basketball varsity starter and senior Jovany Munoz throughout the duration of the 15-week winter sports season.

The hours quickly added up. Munoz spent two hours a day at practice preparing for a weekly marathon of games each Friday and Saturday. The senior frequently remained in the gym after practice to perfect the fundamentals, from shooting to rebounding.

Munoz often rose before dawn, heading to the Big Piney Recreation Center or the high school gym to spend at least another hour sharpening his basketball techniques before the first-period bell rang. The senior participated in open gyms from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Munoz and his teammates also devoted their lunch hours each Wednesday to scout their opponents.

“I love the game,” Munoz said. “It’s easy to work hard at something you love. When I saw myself succeeding, or even failing, at basketball, it made me hungrier to improve. In life, and athletics, you’re going to be put up against adversity all the time. How you react to that adversity is important. It takes a lot of discipline and a good work ethic.”

The long years and innumerable hours that Munoz dedicated to basketball paid off at the end of the 2022-2023 basketball season.

The Wyoming Coaches Association recognized Munoz’s tenacity, leadership and talent on the court, naming the senior to the 2023 2A All-State and All-Conference rosters. Munoz was also named 2A West Conference Player of the Year.

“It felt good to get All-State,” Munoz said. “It’s a blessing to get any award. At the beginning of the year, (All-State) was not a huge goal, but it was in the back of my head that I wanted to be successful. The main focus was just preparing my team to be able to play in a state championship. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but I still had a great time with the team. I was pretty proud of the guys for stepping up and doing the best that they could this season.”

Guiding a team

The Big Piney Punchers fielded a young varsity squad for the 2022-2023 season. As the only senior on the starting lineup, Munoz found himself stepping into a leadership role.

A good leader is able to gain the players’ trust and instill in them a desire to learn and grow, Munoz said.

He preferred leading by example.

“I had to show the team, from the beginning of the season, that while I might be one of the better players on the team, that doesn’t mean I’m too good to listen to coach or too good to work as hard as I can to get better,” Munoz remarked.

Munoz and his teammate and co-leader, junior Reuben Stoutenburg, modeled a strong work ethic by showing up to the gym before school or staying late after practice.

“Throughout the season, the guys who were starting and playing a lot of minutes during games followed our example and were in the gym constantly,” Munoz said.

Mentoring a team consisted of building each player up and teaching them cope with the pressure on the court, Munoz believed.

“I like to tell the other guys, ‘You have put in the work, so continue to be confident in yourself,’” Munoz explained. “Our coach always said, ‘Big players really step up to big moments.’ I felt like that was a good thing to keep in everyone’s head so they could perform better in tight situations. Once you perform well in one clutch situation, it’s in you for the rest of your life.”

Munoz also taught younger players how to feed off the energy of a hostile crowd at an away game.

“I like to see (away games) as a villain story,” Munoz said. “At home, you’re the hero. But at away games, you can be the villain and crush the other student section’s energy and get your team excited even though the odds might be stacked against you.”

Patience is crucial for any leader, and guiding younger players can be trying at times. Fortunately for Munoz, his teammates’ desire to push themselves made the task easier.

“This year, the young guys were just so hungry to get better and they loved to play,” Munoz said. “Regardless of whether they made mistakes, they were always putting in their best effort.”

Fostering a strong sense of teamwork also contributed to success. Munoz recalled a game where he looked to an underclassman while he struggled to find momentum in the first half.

“A younger guy, a sophomore, Bill Hibbert, told me, ‘It’s okay. The shots are going to go in in the next half.’ As a result, I went out super hot in the second half. It helps that even when a guy is down, someone else on the team can bring things back up.”

For the thrill of the game

Munoz joined the local Junior Jazz basketball team coached by Cody Raza in fifth grade. Realizing he possessed natural athletic talent, he also went out for football.

“I actually liked football more at first, because I was better at it,” Munoz said.

Munoz’s passion for basketball grew while playing for the Rustlers at Big Piney Middle School (BPMS).

“I had a really good team around me (at BPMS),” he noted. “I think we only lost around four games, from sixth grade to eighth grade.”

Inspiration also came from watching professional and college basketball. Munoz looked up to NBA star Damian Lillard, a guard for the Portland Trail Blazers who also played college hoops at Weber State University.

Munoz decided to pour all his energy into basketball during his senior year on the BPHS Puncher varsity squad.

“After my junior year, I went down to Colorado to play basketball and realized that if I’m going to be committed to the sport, and play college basketball, then it’s probably better if I don’t play football,” he said.

Munoz thrived on the basketball court.

“It’s the thrill of hitting that big shot when the game comes down to 10 seconds,” Munoz said.

The Punchers tallied nine wins overall and four conference victories over the course of a successful 2022-2023 season. Big Piney trounced Rich County, Utah, 69-55, at home on Jan. 27 and defended the Puncher Gym against Wind River, 71-57, on Feb. 4.

“We had some great home games where everybody on the team performed really well together,” Munoz said.

Munoz also highlighted two conference games against 2A Southwest Quadrant rival, the St. Stephens Eagles. The Punchers knocked out St. Stephens, 90-78, on the road on Jan. 20 and went on to crush the Eagles, 90-68, at home on Feb. 10.

“The team was just clicking on all cylinders against St. Stephens in both games,” said Munoz.

Munoz plans to continue playing basketball at college, with the goal of transferring to Weber State University. He is interested in pursuing a career in exercise and sports science.

“Whatever path I go down, I want to help other athletes reach their peak performance either through physical training or developing a methodology for athletes to improve,” he said. “I would also love to coach.”

When Munoz is not busy with basketball or school, he enjoys hanging out with friends or journaling.

Munoz thanked the Wyoming Coaches Association for naming him an All-State honoree and singled out the BPHS Puncher coaching staff – Nate Strong, Steve Nelson and Chad Espenscheid – for additional gratitude.

“My coaches gave me the best opportunities for success,” Munoz added.

Munoz gave a shoutout to his teammates for “trusting me to be able to lead them and make big decisions for our team.”

Munoz also expressed appreciation to his family for their support and acknowledged “God’s blessing” to be able to play a sport he loves.