Goalkeeper Michaela Bitle and defender Julianne Munoz fortified the back third for Valley Oak League champion Sierra High, and their partnership will continue in the college ranks.
Last week, the Timberwolves tandem signed to play for Indiana Tech.
The Warriors compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and are coming off a 6-12 season under 12th-year coach Jim Lipocky. He has looked to the talent-rich Golden State to bolster his roster after the team had its streak of Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference postseason appearances end at eight years.
“I feel like we’re not cocky but we are confident, and the team may just need that boost of confidence,” Bitle said.
Bitle and Munoz bring a wealth of experience and success to Fort Wayne, even if their time together has been limited. They play for different club teams — Bitle with San Juan South and Munoz with West Coast SC — and only got to compete together at Sierra this past winter season. Munoz transferred from Newark Memorial after her sophomore year but opted not to play for the Timberwolves as a junior.
“I regret not playing last year but I loved the season I had with the girls and coaches,” Munoz said. “We did pretty well.”
Sierra finished 24-2 overall and 12-0 in the VOL for its fourth straight league title, but its bid for a second straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title was stopped short by Christian Brothers in the semifinals. The Timberwolves surrendered just 24 goals in 26 matches.
Bitle was between the uprights for much of it, averaging 4.9 saves while notching 10 shutouts. The four-year varsity player was named to the All-VOL first team, completing a remarkable comeback after an ACL tear prematurely ended her outstanding 2017-18 high school campaign. She returned to action over the summer playing in a tournament for San Juan, and it was on her first game back that Indiana Tech took notice.
“I was obviously nervous going into it,” Bitle said. “Indiana Tech was there looking at some of my teammates and then they saw me. That just helps my confidence. It showed me that my career wasn’t over.”
Bitle said she had always wanted to go out of state for college “and explore.” She also likes the small-school atmosphere at Indiana Tech. Having Munoz with her is another plus.
“That was definitely a major factor, but there are nine or 10 California girls going to Indiana Tech as freshman so it’s nice to have a lot of us coming from the same place,” Bitle said. “(Munoz) is definitely my favorite defender and she made me comfortable as the keeper. Hopefully we get the chance to keep that going out there.”
Munoz was the lone senior defender for Sierra, where she had the freedom to contribute to the attack. She tallied four goals and six assists and made the All-VOL second team.
Munoz first came in contact with Indiana Tech during the same tournament Bitle caught the eye of the Warriors staff. The two made their visit together in February.
“I have some teammates from my club already going there,” Munoz said. “When I heard about the school I thought I’d visit and I loved it. I really like the coach, and he and the girls on the team were so welcoming. I got along so well with all of them.”
Munoz will major in computer science, while Bitle is studying health science to get into nursing.