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Eden one of final WNY survivors as host of Pan-Am volleyball tourney

St. Francis Swings Away Elsewehere locally, Tom Duszkiewicz is pictured taking a big swing in St. Francis’ recent match with Orchard Park. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
There was no bias when Eden head volleyball coach Robert Pierce said he believed the Pan-Am Invitational, held at his home team’s high school, has become the best volleyball tournament in the state.

With 16 teams’ coming from all parts of Western New York, Rochester and beyond, he has a reason to think the 36th annual tournament scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 7 will bring some of the best volleyball talent around to Eden.

Eden was among the Buffalo-area schools, including Frontier and St. Joe’s, to advance to the quarterfinals of the championship flight, but it was the Rochester teams that Pierce said stood out the most.

“Every coach would equally admit this, they love getting into [this tournament],” he said. “You can’t take a point off. Good luck getting out of pool play, finishing one or two, and tomorrow the tournament could have run and probably another team could’ve advanced. It’s that tough.”

Penfield took down Fairport, to claim the 2013 crown. It was the first time since 1995 that Penfield competed in the tournament, according to Coach Mike Fusar.

St. Joe’s was the only WNY school to reach the semifinals. Frontier was taken down by the eventual champion Penfield, and St. Joe’s by Fairport. Eden lost to McQuaid Jesuit in the quarters.

The tournament was set up with four pools, each with four teams. There was high level competition in each pool, highlighted by McQuaid from Rochester, which is the defending Section V and state champion in Division I.

The individual talent, along with the overall team talent, was noteworthy, according to Pierce. The tournament featured many players who are part of the USA volleyball program and have lengthy family histories in the sport.

“We were really honored that they invited us to come here,” Fusar said. “Schedules and conflicts kind of prevented us from coming. Then [Pierce] invited us back this year and we were glad to make it. It’s really one of the best tournaments in the whole state. We got to play the top teams in Buffalo and two other top teams from the Rochester area. We got to play a lot of top schools. It was a great opportunity for my kids.”

Eden, which is a smaller Division II school, competed against some of the large Division I schools. During the quarterfinals against McQuaid, after falling in the first set, the Raiders rallied to win the second, 33 – 31, before eventually losing the decisive third set.

“We put it together and played one of our best matches against that McQuaid team,” Pierce said. “It was fun.”

Eden is a nine-time winner of the tournament, which leads all schools. McQuaid is a two-time winner with its most recent title in 2011, with a victory against Frontier in the finals. The Falcons are also a three-time winner of the event, including taking a title in 2012.

The tournament is a true test of not only volleyball skill, but of mental toughness and stamina, according to Pierce. Fairport played 11 matches of volleyball, to win the championship. The tournament started at 8 a.m. and finished a little before 6.

Locals Declan Pierce of Eden, the coach’s son, and Dylan Durni of Frontier, were named to the all-tournament team.

Divisional play is Eden’s next focus, as it will open the season against Maryvale this week.

Robert Pierce said that he feels good about the level at which his team is playing and expects to continue the program’s success in Erie County Interscholastic Conference Division III.

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