It started as a plan put together by Matt Bynon while sitting in his dorm room at Rivier University in Nashua, New Hampshire. Bynon was a college student athlete with aspirations to start an affordable boys club with quality coaching, and to grow slowly and steadily. Granite Coast Volleyball was formed in 2016 with a few teams that practiced out of Rivier University.
“We knew we needed to start small, especially when we were the new kids on the block in New England” says Bynon, Club Director of Mill City Volleyball.
In New England there are about 80 girls volleyball clubs and about 15 boys clubs, so Bynon’s mission was to grow the boys game as much as he could. He knew that with such a densely populated girls community, if he took a chance on a building and had a good product the athletes would come. At the age of 23, Bynon opened a two court volleyball facility.
Mill City Volleyball was created in 2017 out of Lowell, MA. The club started with four teams (three boys teams and one girls team) training in a two court facility.
“When we decided we wanted to start girls we knew we needed a bigger facility. Once we took a chance on the building, we had over 100 girls tryout in 2017.”
Now, four years later, Mill City has a total of 20 teams (16 girls teams and four boys teams) that train on three courts. The facility started off as a bed supply company, which was then turned into Mill City’s home with a mission to change the game of club volleyball in New England.
“We are the only volleyball dedicated facility in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, so being different, having our own home and challenging kids from a practice and tournament standpoint was very important to us.”
Mill City has its sights set on moving into a larger facility and operating with two locations.
Collaboration and Leadership
Like all clubs, when the pandemic began, Mill City was forced to get really creative and work with surrounding clubs that they had never worked closely with before. In Massachusetts, teams are not allowed to leave the state to play, so Mill City formed a league with other Massachusetts clubs to compete until they could start traveling again.
“We reached out to clubs to see what everyone was doing. Having a facility gave us the flexibility to host some play dates when gym space was so scarce across the state. We are still working together with those clubs and have the first AAU Mass League set through March before we hopefully can start traveling again” adds Bynon.
Innovation for Boys Volleyball
On the boy’s side, Mill City created a Boys Fall League for high schools in New Hampshire and Massachusetts to compete in. Current seniors who lost their senior year were permitted to join in and play with their high school team one last time. The league had 8 teams participate.
Since then, the clubs have been restricted to just players and teams in Massachusetts so Mill City created a Mass Power League which consists of 12 teams.
“With the league we weren’t supposed to have spectators, so we purchased livestream cameras for parents and college coaches to watch. Like our girls, we had to work with neighboring clubs who we never thought we’d work with to get players in and out of the gym safely and stay active.”
The goal was also to keep costs low so the participating clubs agreed to self officiate rather than pay officials, and that has been beneficial from a cost standpoint.
Grassroots and Education
One big goal for Mill City this year was to grow their grassroots program so they started a Fall Mini Club season for girls 8-12 years old. Each team held two practices per week with three playdates within the state guidelines. 40 athletes participating this past fall club season, which then led to three teams under 13 years old to be formed this winter/spring.
Mill City strives to send its national coaches to the NCAA Final Four and Convention each year to grow as coaches and teachers of the game both on and off the court. The club mentors its younger coaches by having a director run each practice through a master coaching philosophy to assist with practice planning and the tempo of the practice. Maintaining a culture that brings out the best in their players and improve the game in the New England Region is what drives all of the decisions for Mill City.
“The biggest thing with being a JVA member is the education they provide for our coaches. When you’re growing as a club you look to have the same language from top to bottom. When Covid hit it was so important to keep our coaches actively learning and growing. The JVA provides videos whether it’s about starting or building a club, business strategies for owning a facility and how to run a successful practice with drills and outlines. We look forward to also attending the JVA World Challenge and more JVA events in the future.”
Mill City Volleyball Club (Lowell, MA) is a member of the Junior Volleyball Association, an organization committed to enhancing the junior volleyball experience for club directors, coaches, players, and fans.