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From Diamond to Hardwood: Former State High Hardballer Leads Volleyball Team into Playoffs

by and on May 20, 2019 5:00 AM

Tanner Kuruzovich more than once got an earful from his older siblings about playing volleyball in high school.

His brother, Brandon, and sister, Taylor, were both four-year starters at State College.

He recalled them telling him: “Why aren’t you playing volleyball? You have the height, you have the body build, all that.”

But Tanner resisted, playing baseball his freshman year.

Then, he had a change of heart, which prompted, “I told you so.”

It took him a little longer, but Tanner did find himself in the “family business.” The senior is one of the top offensive threats for the Little Lions, and on May 1 he officially committed to play the sport at Juniata.

State College (13-4) kicked off the postseason on Thursday with a 3-0 win against Wilson at Warwick High School. The road is quite different this spring versus years past. Altoona opted not to participate in the playoffs, so there was no District 6 title match, and the Little Lions are now taking part in the District 3 tournament to get to the PIAA bracket. The Little Lions will face Warwick at 6 p.m. on Monday at Northeastern York in the quarterfinals.

Kuruzovich and his teammates are looking forward to the new challenge.

And while there had been plenty of familial coaxing, it also took some introspection to convince Tanner to switch.

Their parents were fans of the sport, and their aunt played in college, but it wasn’t until Taylor started to play that things began to connect. Hours of pepper (batting the ball at each other) followed, as did a lot of backyard battles. When Taylor was playing for the Lady Little Lions, Brandon, and later Tanner, were team managers for the girls’ team.

His predecessors also are still involved in the sport — Brandon is an assistant coach for the Little Lions while working on his engineering degree at Penn State, and Taylor just finished her sophomore year as a setter at Akron.

“Volleyball was something all the kids could relate to,” said their mother, Kristin Kuruzovich. “It was something they could do together when we went on family vacations or if they were bored.”

But Tanner loved baseball, and there had been dreams of playing the sport in college, until he started to get bored out on the field.

“I realized it’s not my type of sport,” Tanner said. “I get very anxious if I’m standing around a lot. … For baseball, I can go a whole game without getting a ball hit to me.”

So, when he joined the team as a sophomore, he had to play a little catch-up. He had the athleticism and the general knowledge of the sport, but some things were still foreign — like not getting his steps right on his approaches to the net to swing at the ball.

His early experiences also saw a little rebuilding for the program.

“It was challenging and we asked a lot of him his first two years,” coach Kim-Li Kimel said. “A lot of the growth we needed from him was not in his skill set, physical skill set, but his emotional growth. He did a great job and leaned into it as best as he could.”

Much like how he started out playing baseball, Tanner also took a different path once he was on the court — each of his siblings is a setter, including Brayden, a freshman teammate. Tanner said his desire to be at a different position comes from that baseball influence: he likes to hit.

“It feels like that goes to waste if I’m setting,” he joked.

This season, he leads the Little Lions with 236 kills and 26 aces, and is third with 27 blocks and 65 digs. However, Kimel thinks Tanner’s biggest impact is not seen in the stats.

“He is so disciplined off the court and outside the gym,” Kimel said. “He’s the kid who’s doing offseason lifting, he’s the kid doing stretches, he’s the kid who’s making sure his body is in shape to play.”

She also saw a difference in his confidence and determination when the team began preseason practices in March.

His abilities also caught the eyes of Juniata coach Glenn DeHaven, who guided the Eagles to a 23-9 season this spring, falling in the Centennial Conference championship match to just miss the NCAA Division III tournament.

“I’m very excited about the addition of Tanner to the Juniata men’s volleyball family,” DeHaven said. “I love his athleticism and his volleyball background. He is loaded with potential and I expect big things from him in the future. He is a wonderful kid who comes from a great family.”

Assuming Brayden keeps playing the rest of the way through high school the family quartet will have given State College volleyball better than a decade of service.

Tanner may have been a late starter, but he is glad he made the switch, and it has benefitted more than just the senior.

“What we count on for him is everybody plays well around him,” Kimel said. “That’s what distinguishes him.”



This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Gordon Brunskill
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