Storm's Nika Muhl makes WNBA debut vs. Fever after visa clears

Nika Muhl gets standing ovation as she checks in for first time (0:29)

After missing the Storm's first four games due to a visa issue, rookie Nika Muhl enters to a warm welcome from the Seattle crowd. (0:29)

SEATTLE -- On a night when the largest crowd in Storm history flocked to Climate Pledge Arena to see the first WNBA appearance there by No. 1 overall pick Caitlin Clark, it was Seattle rookie Nika Muhl -- taken 13 picks after Clark in last month's draft -- who got Wednesday's biggest ovation when she checked in for her delayed debut.

"I was shaking," Muhl said after the Storm's thrilling 85-83 win over the Indiana Fever. "It was unreal. It was surreal. I always say I never dreamed of stuff like this because it was always kind of too far to reach it in my head, but I trust my work and I trust that I deserve to be here. I love being here. I love Seattle. I love my teammates, I love my coaches, and I love the program and the history and what it brings. These fans, I love them the most of everything."

Muhl, a native of Croatia, missed the Storm's first four games of the regular season while awaiting the approval of a P1A work visa to replace the student visa she held at UConn. After the visa was approved, Muhl made a necessary trip to Canada on Tuesday to formalize the change in her status, flying to Vancouver -- after missing her first flight -- and directly back to Seattle.

Although Muhl thanked the Storm organization for its efforts on her behalf, there was nothing she could do but wait to become eligible to play.

"It was a little frustrating at times," she said. "It felt like I was injured and couldn't play -- it reminded me of those times. Honestly, I feel like it was needed for me, in a way because I had to put it in a positive mindset and my teammates and my coaches and everybody in the program helped me put it in a positive mindset.

"I learned a lot from the sidelines. I tried to be loud, I tried to look at the game from a different perspective for a little bit, which was really helpful for me as a rookie."

Despite the frustration, Muhl wanted to make people laugh about her situation. That resulted in the T-shirt she wore to Wednesday's game, which read "approved" over a mock visa. Muhl's dad, a graphic designer, put together the image, while her mom helped style the outfit.

"The shirt was printed faster than the visa," Muhl quipped.

With limited practice time during Seattle's brief training camp, Muhl did not get off the bench in the first half of the Storm's win. Coach Noelle Quinn substituted Muhl late in the third quarter, matching her against Clark. The two had previously squared off in the semifinal of last month's Final Four, with Muhl's UConn team losing to Clark and Iowa.

In that game, Muhl helped limit Clark to 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting, tying her lowest output as a senior. This time around, Clark got the better of the matchup, scoring five points and handing out an assist in the first three possessions after Muhl checked in. Muhl played just three minutes, missing her only shot from the field and adding two rebounds.

Nonetheless, Muhl enjoyed the reunion, greeting Clark with a hug postgame.

"I'm very happy with the fact that I got to play my first game and it was against her because I love Caitlin," Muhl said. "We had a lot of fun at the draft together. To get to meet all those people outside of the games -- you hate everybody on the floor, you want to compete, but outside we're all good friends. We support each other a lot."

Informed postgame about the record crowd in attendance, Muhl was taken aback.

"It was so much fun," she said. "You just blew my mind with my stat because I didn't know that. I'm just so blessed to be part of this. I'm forever grateful. I'm probably going to go home now and I won't be able to sleep and just think about this day and everything that happened. I get chills every time I think about it. That's how much it means to me."