Pioneers’ setter a fast learner

When Canyon Springs boys volleyball setter Jon Jason Duhaylungsod steps onto the court, his diminutive frame doesn’t strike fear into many opponents.

Teammates know better of the 5-foot-6-inch senior.

“I think they look up to me, even though I’m so short,” Duhaylungsod said with a grin. “They know where I’m coming from, how I play and what my expectations are. Every time we step on the court, I get mad at them and yell at them, but they know I just want us to get better. I’m the one that touches every play, so they look to me.”

The fiery setter has the Pioneers (8-1, 4-1 Northeast League) chasing their first Sunrise Region playoff berth since 2009. After a disappointing 8-16 record a year ago, Canyon Springs is tied for second place in the Northeast nearly midway through league play.

The team, which only lost two seniors from last season’s team, points to chemistry within the returning players as a key to the strong start.

“We’ve relied on them to keep the team together and to keep that camaraderie,” Canyon Springs coach Cheryl Dameron said of the team’s seniors. “Our team’s a little bit different; they look like they goof around a lot. They have fun, but they get the job done, and that’s what’s important.”

Duhaylungsod plays a key role among those returners.

An athletic setter with steady hands, Duhaylungsod regularly sprints across the floor to set up a teammate. But he wasn’t always a standout volleyball player.

In fact, four years ago, he didn’t even know the sport.

When a friend introduced him to volleyball as a freshman, Duhaylungsod had a long way to go before he could even be considered a competent freshman team starter.

“I didn’t know how to set, or how to do anything,” said Duhaylungsod, who has 238 assists, 62 blocks and 21 aces this year. “I started at point one; I didn’t even know how to pass the ball. But I had a lot of time in practice and, through sweat and effort, (worked with) other players like (2009 Canyon Springs graduate) Raymond Estevez. I looked up to him as a setter, and he taught me how to set and all the fundamentals. I just learned from him.”

The learning on the job worked, and Duhaylungsod, who totaled 581 assists, 50 digs, 41 aces and 38 blocks as a junior, has become an effective leader on a potential playoff team.

Co-captain Adam Tuala has made the job easier, totaling 130 kills on the year to give the Pioneers a potent outside attack to complement Duhaylungsod.

Canyon Springs has also been bolstered by the rapid development of middle blockers James Harris (85 blocks) and Immanuel Tufuga (62 kills, 32 blocks).

“During the summertime, I think we made sure they had the fundamentals by sending them to camp and all that,” Dameron said. “We have a few new players, but those new players have picked up the game so fast — it’s surprised me. We’ve been very lucky in getting kids who can pick up the game as fast as they have.”

As happy a team as the Pioneers are, they hope to be all smiles come playoff time.

“We’ve been talking about this since last year,” Duhaylungsod said. “We know the kind of team that we have, our fundamentals and our assets. It would be pretty big for us.”