Meyer Road is located just north of the Route 400 Expressway in West Seneca, fairly close to the Thruway. It’s a small, isolated business area, and two types of people mostly travel it: truck drivers and volleyball players.
Sam Burgio is one of the latter.
“Sometimes during the year, I’m there three days a week for practice, plus two other days,” said Burgio, a junior on Eden High School’s girls volleyball team.
The destination of Burgio and some of Western New York’s other top volleyball players is the Buffalo Niagara Court Center. The outside looks like a warehouse, a nice fit with the surroundings, but the inside is mostly devoted to volleyball. Six courts might be set up on a particular day to go with locker rooms, a pro shop, and other amenities.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” said Meghan Ballou, a teammate of Burgio’s at Eden. “We’ve been going there since it was built from the ground up. It’s really grown. It’s a good complex.”
Western New York’s high school volleyball players have done well over the years by any standard. The teams have acquitted themselves in state competition, and the players have gone on to contribute to some of the top college teams in the country.
The BNCC has turned into a collection point for many of the area’s top players, particularly outside the high school season in times other than the fall when high schools are playing their schedules. The building, open since 2007, was provided by Gary Hill, co-owner of a large construction company.
“Gary had a love for volleyball because at least one of his daughters was heavily involved in it at Frontier,” said Stephen Pierce, coach of the Eden girls team. “Like a good businessman, he wanted to give back to the community. He turned an idea for a warehouse into a sports complex.”
The closest comparable facility to the one in West Seneca is located in Cleveland. The Ohio complex provided some features that were copied and adapted for use here. There’s one near Albany, and a Rochester complex that will be smaller than the one here should be open next year.
“There’s a girl from Pennsylvania,” Burgio said about the drawing power of the facility. “They come in from Allegany, an hour-and-a-half drive. They’re coming in from pretty far.”
When the facility first opened, most of the girls’ club activity fell under the umbrella of Niagara Frontier Volleyball, while the boys had several different organizations as options. When Niagara Frontier Volleyball moved into the complex to set up a base of operations, the advantages became obvious.
“A central location was ideal,” said Rocco Lucci, Niagara Frontier Volleyball’s club director. “Before, we were at practice sites all over the place. With a club as big as Niagara Frontier, with all these kids trying to play, we never saw most of them. Once we were in one location, everything became more efficient – the training, the learning, the player development.”
The relationship between the BNCC and Niagara Frontier Volleyball gives the club first crack at the prime times for the courts. The boys, however, get on the floor at times. Robert Pierce, Eden’s boys volleyball coach, runs a club team that had been located in that village but is on the move.
“Since the opening of the BNCC, we have started to move many of our practices there,” he said. “This year, we’ll have almost all of our practices there. The old way was great for the Eden kids, since they woke up and drove five minutes. But just having a training facility specifically for volleyball, and being centrally located, has been tremendous.”
There are plans to expand the facility by a couple of more courts. That would give the boys more access.
Pierce points out that the extra space is a true luxury when it comes to teaching.
“We’ll do a thing similar to what the top clubs in the nation do,” he said. “We’ll put three teams on two courts. You can vary drills that way, you can do more six-on-six.
“Having the courts side by side, I can walk down and work with the younger kids, while other knowledgeable coaches can work with my kids. I can see where the kids fit in the pipeline.”
The BNCC’s year more or less begins in the fall, according to assistant facility director Shannon Superczynski.
Both the Eden high school teams have their fall tournaments there. The girls tournament will be held Saturday. It’s easier to accommodate a large field there than at a school gym or two.
“There is a downside in that we’re not playing at home,” Robert Pierce said. “But I think the most important thing is that it helps the growth of the sport, the exposure of the sport. I want to say we had 10 different college coaches there. They love it. They can watch all the great athletes play at once.”
The clubs take over once the high school season ends in November, and teams play in regional and national tournaments to improve their skills by going up against great players.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Declan Pierce of the Eden boys team. “During the school season, you play against all of the other people, but everyone comes together after that. … You’ll get better playing nationally ranked teams around the country.”
The BNCC has been around long enough that those who played volleyball there while in junior high are now at college. They are frequent visitors when they return on college breaks.
“If the NCAA rules allow it, they are jumping in to help,” Lucci said. “They are giving the kids pointers, helping coach them. When the college kids say, ‘Do this,’ the kids start working out. They send the best messages to the current players. We’ve even had alumni games.
“Matt Anderson is from West Seneca. He is one of the top players in the world, and he is one of the oldest players on the U.S. National team. When he comes home, he comes here to work out.”
The BNCC rents out court time for anything from friendly games to private lessons. The center also runs its own youth volleyball programs, starting with children who are as young as 4.
The result of all of this activity is a steady stream of top volleyball talent, which has led to plenty of scholarship dollars coming this way.
“I always tell parents, if you want a sport that can give your child at shot at getting a scholarship, it’s volleyball,” Stephen Pierce said. “We’ve had people at Duke, Penn State, Syracuse, UNC, Wyoming – all sorts of places. College coaches come to watch our kids here.
“The facility provides so many opportunities. It’s been a real godsend for those trying to improve their programs, and to help kids get to the next level. We have all these sports in Western New York, and we in volleyball have the most kids playing in the NCAA at all levels. A lot of it is because of the work we’re able to do there.”