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Canyon Tuman easily could have pursued football in college. Blessed with size (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) and athleticism — not unlike his father, Jerame, who played tight end with the Pittsburgh Steelers for 10 seasons — the North Allegheny grad fit the mold.
But Tuman also has the bloodlines for volleyball. His mother, the former Molly Dreisbach, played on the U.S. women’s national team for two years.
“I played football, basketball and volleyball in high school, but the more I played volleyball, the more it became my passion,” Tuman said. “There was no pressure at all (to play football). It came down to what I loved doing the most.”
Tuman is pursuing his passion at Penn State, and he is pursuing it in more meaningful moments than he might have expected. A rash of injuries forced Nittany Lions coach Mark Pavlik to give more prominent roles to younger players, and Tuman, a freshman middle hitter, is one of them.
“We’re throwing them in some matches where, in past years, guys wouldn’t have been in those positions,” Pavlik said. “(Canyon) is not afraid to compete. He is not intimidated by anything.”
Through the Big Ten/Pac 12 Challenge, Penn State was 8-10 (5-2 Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association). Tuman played in 15 matches (14 starts), had 40 kills, led the team in hitting percentage (.507) and ranked second in total blocks (35).
Against Charleston on Feb. 24, he was perfect on seven attack attempts and had six block assists. He matched his season-high of seven kills two matches later in a win over NJIT.
At 6-6, Tuman often gives up a couple of inches to opposing middle blockers. That was a big adjustment after high school and club careers — he played with Pittsburgh Volleyball Club — during which he often was the tallest player on the floor.
He said he tries to use his quickness to offset any size disadvantage he might encounter. Pavlik said Tuman still needs to refine his mechanics to be a more effective hitter, but he has no reservations about Tuman’s willingness to improve.
“He’s not afraid to work,” Pavlik said. “And he’ll be the first guy to tell you he’s got to get better in certain areas.
“He’s got a real quick arm, and if we can get his arm and his core to work in tandem, he’s going to hurt people.”
Helping to make Tuman’s transition to the top college level easier is the fact the bulk of Penn State’s roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores, so there’s an opportunity to learn on the job together. And he has longtime club teammate and fellow freshman Cal Fisher to lean on.
Fisher, a Riverview grad, also has played significant minutes for the Nittany Lions.
“I don’t think we expected the roles we have now,” Fisher said, “but we put in the work necessary to get here.”
Added Tuman: “It was a change of pace for me and Cal. Now we’re playing with the big boys, and we’re making each other better.”
With half the EIVA season to go, the Nittany Lions are in good position to make a run at the top seed for the conference tournament. Tuman figures to continue playing a role in Penn State’s fortunes this season, and Pavlik is optimistic about what he can bring the next three seasons, too.
“He’s the kind of guy who is going to keep grinding it out,” the coach said. “The real interesting thing is his athletic self-esteem and understanding of how good he is as an athlete have not been damaged by playing against guys across the net who have been playing for four years who are wiser, bigger and stronger.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .