Sara Pavan is very scared.
She stood in the bowels of the Footprint Center minutes from getting ready to compete in the AVP Phoenix Gold Series Championship. Zana Muno was playing with a new partner, in a new format, in an arena she had never played before.
She was going to wear a tennis dress.
A tennis shirt?
The 6-foot-5 Canadian who was named the best blocker in the world three times? The 36-year-old known for his dominant net, icy gaze and mostly stoic demeanor?
In a tennis dress?
“I think it’s fair to say that I’m the last person you thought would do this. I’m the last person I thought would do that,” Pavan said with a laugh. “If I’m being completely honest, the reason I entertained the idea was because of how happy it made Xana. I saw how excited she was at the prospect and I couldn’t say no to that, you know what I mean? She was excited, and at least, I wanted to please her.
So she informs her 26-year-old partner, Muno, that even when she’s tending to the chickens on her Santa Maria ranch, there’s not another soul within a 10-minute drive, no one watching live, because of his enthusiasm for the outfit. There are no content producers to take photos or video, Muno said of her outfit. “That’s the goal. Dirty but also chic. Impractical, because we have to shovel it out, but it looks good enough to do it! That is the purpose.
When the two hit the Lululemon outlet in Phoenix, Pavan didn’t expect to buy anything. She simply tried on a few clothes and told Muno sure, she went and gave it to him, but it wasn’t right. Then Muno wears one of dozens of flashy – but functional! -Clothes and Pavan offers the tried and true sports bikini. But when Pavan emerged from the changing room in her pink tennis dress and white top, and a thousand-watt smile on Muno’s face, she saw “pure joy,” as Pavan described it, saying, “‘Well, I have to do it.’ I did too.
There was still one issue: dressing in public.
“At first, I would walk out of the house and people would say, ‘Sarah’s wearing a dress, oh my God, what’s going on? I had to go through that,” said Pavan, dressed in a tennis shirt in Phoenix. “A couple right off the bat, ‘Oh my God, I love this!’ They were saying. And I thought I could do this. Step one is going public.”
Step two? Playing with something doesn’t expect the slightest practicality, especially on sand. But as Pavan began to move around, diving, blocking, swinging, lunging, passing through the unusual positions typical of a beach volleyball player, she had a startling thought. . They didn’t pick a single wedgie. He didn’t fix her top. She was… playing volleyball… and she looked great doing it.
“It’s really comfortable. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when girls wear bikinis, they pick up a lot of their curves. It’s literally all game,” Pavan said. “I didn’t think anything of it, because the dress had spandex underneath, so it didn’t move at all. I wasn’t paying attention to my outfit.” It was just, I didn’t think about it. I never had to fix anything. Even though it didn’t seem low maintenance, it was very low maintenance. In fact, it was the most comfortable thing ever, and I was like, ‘How could I not buy into this?’ I’m a changed man, let me tell you.
She’s far from the only one on AVP this season to start branching out in terms of what she wears on the beach. And it’s no coincidence that it was with Muno that Pavan introduced the sensationalism of competing in nothing but a bikini at every Olympic Games, a highly scrutinized uniform.
No player on the AVP got more creative with their game day outfits than Muno, who was voted the best fashionista by her peers. It’s not hard to see why. Every match, there was as much discussion as what Muno would wear, how she and Brandi Wilkerson, or Lauren Fendrick or Pavan would match up against the opposing team.
“I don’t like to be boring. Nobody likes boring,” Muno says, definitely, unequivocally, not boring. “I have loved and dressed in fashion all my life. I love it now. Now why not do one of my other loves – my love of volleyball?
“I grew it [this year]. I really did. I guess part of it is rebellion. I think it’s just a way to have fun. Some people listen to music, but music doesn’t help me. Dressed well, that puts Pep in my rankings and it’s just a little more good time to play.
If that seemed like a distraction, it wasn’t: Muno more than doubled her prize money in one season, finishing third twice, including at the Manhattan Beach Open. In fact, Muno believes that choosing clothes is a healthy and perhaps most important part of team bonding, to avoid stress and performance pressure.
“We went and had such a fun day at the mall instead of just sitting around exploring and thinking about everything,” Muno said of the Phoenix Championship with Pavan. “It sounds silly but it was an escape for both of us and it really worked. We had a really fun day and it translated into a fun game. It was very interesting. I learned a lot about her. It was a great time, it wasn’t hard, it was a lot of fun.
Practical, as she says, figuratively speaking. But also in finance. All her life, Delaney Meurter (then Knudsen) wore one-piece bathing suits. Not that it was her choice in the first place. A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is an added emphasis on modesty, or, as Mewhirter puts it, “an environment where it’s highly encouraged to leave a little to my imagination.” I like to say that. I wasn’t always on board. It wasn’t cool, it wasn’t what everyone was doing and as a young woman you always wanted to do what everyone else was doing.
But in 2017, another church member named Cami Manville called. Does she want to play AVP in Austin? And does she want to wear a matching one-piece? A few weeks later, Mewhirter – then Knudsen – received a call from Digi magazine, which wanted to show her in the fashion center, where her image would occupy two full pages.
“That was the thing that opened the door, and the thing that got the ball rolling was when I had the opportunity to put myself out there as a girl wearing a one-piece,” Meuriter said. And, of course, she was right.
“Delaney kills one piece,” Pavan said. “I’ve loved her Andy collection forever.”
Not all Mormon athletes wear one-pieces, but Mewhirter (who, in full disclosure, is my wife) has made it her signature thing. She landed a clothing sponsorship with Jolie, who she wore in most of her various one-pieces. And she’s been allowed to make the real impact she’s always wanted in the sport.
“I love getting messages from moms saying their daughters want to buy a piece because their daughters see me playing in them,” Mewhirter said. “This is a big thing for me because I remember fighting with my mother because she wanted me to dress more conservatively when I was young and I didn’t want to and now I see the value in it and I’m happy to be an example to other young girls.”
And besides, does she wear all that extra stuff? Just more space for sponsors to put their logos. She says it as a joke – but there’s something undeniably attractive to clothing companies and sponsors who see a unique look and style and want to be a part of it.
“Sometimes there’s such a lack of personality, so if you’re not going to show your personality in how you act on the court, at least bring it with what you’re wearing,” Pavan said.
And it’s not just Munno, or Wilkerson, or Meurther who are starting to express themselves through their clothes. Betty Flint and Kelly Cheng wore different styles of tops as Molly Turner.
“You saw one of the straps come off,” Pavan said. “Very dangerous, I applaud them for that. They fixed every game.
Sarah Schermerhorn and Cornyn Quigg have frequently switched to crop tops, which have become something of a signature look.
“I didn’t really realize it was my thing, but I guess it was my thing,” Schermerhorn said. “I was in North Carolina, and some of the girls were wearing crop tops. They will watch you and follow you. I remember when I was first looking for crop tops it was really hard to find them. Trends are changing a bit. I’m not angry about it.”
Carly Skjodt takes the style long adopted by Brook Lab, old school, oversized T-shirts. Julia Scholes, sponsored by the Free People’s Movement, became an early adopter of the tennis dress.
“I feel like every race someone is wearing something different, or more dresses are added, or a different color, different cut, a different style of shorts,” Scholes said. “It was fun to see everyone express themselves in fashion in a unique way. That was fun.”
In the midst of it all, Muno sees a bigger picture. All major sports and their athletes have ties to fashion. Cameras follow NFL players entering stadiums in sometimes sharp, sometimes outrageous, sometimes hilarious outfits and costumes. Sunglasses to the night game? for sure. Cowboy hats? why not? NBA players do the same during pregame walkthroughs and postgame press conferences. Before the World Cup, much of the frenzy focused on the different kits that each country would wear.
“Fashion is such a big industry and popular culture and all of this is that people can connect with big brands and post on those channels,” Muno said. “That’s what I came here for. I feel trapped and it’s cool. We are embracing our femininity and we are more than athletes and we can embrace that. It could also change the sport. If you look at all other sports – tennis, basketball, football – the pre-game fit is something like that, and it connects you to popular culture. People may not know football, but they know who Tom Brady is because he wore almost anything to the Met Gala. Fashion is definitely a way to grow the sport so that part is really exciting for me.
“It’s like that in all sports, and it’s a way to raise your self-image and connect with other things and go beyond your sport. The part I’ve had is people who are sexist, like, ‘How can you wear this?’ or ‘Is it about fashion or your sport?’ To me, every sport does that. The clothes you’re wearing when you watch the US Open aren’t just revealing or edgy, they’re designer. That argument can go to any sport. I think it’s broadening to what makes people feel more comfortable: more layers on top, shorts underneath, and when they’re doing it. It makes it fun. It’s cool. You care so much about being unique and expressing something.
Muno, like many other players these days, is enjoying her time off the sand after the long and winding 2022 season. in the meantime? She is preparing her closet for 2023.
“I’m definitely rethinking what I want to do next year in terms of fashion,” she said.
Beautiful – but practical.