Canisius High School now has a first-class athletic facility to go with its first-class volleyball program.
The Crusaders will chase their 10th consecutive Monsignor Martin Association title in the big and bright Bernard J. Kennedy Field House, which was officially dedicated last week during an on-campus gala for 250.
Kills from Canisius players will now be pounded onto a shiny hardwood floor that covers the entire 22,000-square-foot court. The facility houses three full-length basketball courts, a signature court, multi-tiered seating for 1,000, a workout space and concession area. It's located on the Cleveland Avenue side of the high school on Delaware Avenue.
The field house hosted its first event on Friday when Canisius played San Ignacio, a Jesuit high school from Puerto Rico. The Crusaders lost to their international visitors in four games, but you couldn't beat the surroundings.
"It was incredible," senior libero John Jepson said. "The floor and the size of it and how everything was new. It's hard to explain. Being the first to ever play in the gym -- that's something you never forget. In the old auditorium there was a slight incline and sometimes when you were chasing a ball toward the seats you could stumble. The new gym is a lot more open."
The field house, part of a $15.5 million expansion, is named for Kennedy, Class of '49, the late chairman of National Fuel Gas.
The field house replaces the school's historic auditorium, home to the Crusaders' volleyball team since its inception in 1994 and its storied basketball program since the school moved from Washington Street in 1944. With its blend of electricity and charm the auditorium gave the Crusaders one of the most distinct home court advantages in Western New York.
The auditorium will go back to its intended purpose of hosting school plays, dances, music recitals and Masses.
"The Aud probably received more use than any one area should have," Athletic Director Jim Mauro said. "Between basketball, volleyball, wrestling matches, our crew people would train in the balcony during the winter. Basketball practice would be going on while the indoor track team was running the stairway. What that did was force us to be very creative to maximize that space. But it doesn't serve the entire student body. Here with this [field house], you can do a lot of different things."
One of those things undoubtedly will be winning volleyball matches. The Crusaders open their MMA schedule on Wednesday at 5 p.m. against Bishop Timon-St. Jude. They host rival St. Joe's on Sept. 30.
Canisius enters the season with the only two returning All-Catholic picks: Jepson and Luke Klee. Jepson, along with Nick McDonagh of Lake Shore, participated in the High Performance Championships as members of the USA boys youth Continental team in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., this summer. Klee is expected to lead the team in kills this season. Junior right side hitter CJ Coatsworth joins senior outside hitter Luke Klee and Jepson as tri-captains.
>On the Web
For some quick videos, including a walk inside Canisius' new facility, go to the Prep Talk blog at buffalonews.com/blogs