Talk about prestigious.
With most volleyball tournaments, teams usually earn satisfaction after winning the whole thing. But at the Tampa Bay Invitational, just getting the call to play is a huge deal.
"It means an awful lot to just get an invite to it," Tampa Prep athletic director Mike Flynn said. "This tournament brings in the best of the best."
Flynn should know. He coached the Terrapins from 2004-10 when Tampa Prep won a state title and reached the final four a total of four times.
"This tournament gets the volleyball powers in from all the regions in Florida," Flynn said. "We're very excited again because the best in each classification will be here."
The 27th annual tournament kicks off today and runs through Saturday at the University of Tampa's Bob Martinez Center.
"We want to get our girls to play the best competition throughout the year and put them under fire to get ready for the playoffs," Tampa Prep coach Jessica Lamm said. "And now you get those pressure situations in not just one match, but in every match."
The Terrapins, 9-5 at press time, have won six of their past seven. Tampa Prep, which reached the state semifinals last year before losing to eventual state champs Orlando First Academy, are exceptionally young; the Terrapins start four freshmen.
Senior Katie Krueger, a Virginia Tech commit, is one of the team's few seasoned players.
"This group doesn't really have enough of that big match experience," Lamm said. "This tournament, with every match being against an excellent team, will show that in tight games, one error can be the difference in winning and losing."
Lamm, in her first year as coach after assisting Flynn for three seasons, said she isn't concerned with how many victories her team produces in the tourney. She's emphasizing the match toughness acquired by playing the best of the best in a nonplayoff situation.
"Wins and losses aren't the ultimate goal for me in this," she said. "I want these girls to gain that experience."
The 16-team field includes defending state champions Plant (6A) and Berkeley Prep (3A). Last year's 2A state champs Orlando First Academy will also compete, in addition to 6A state runnersup Orlando Boone and region finalist Venice (5A).
The tournament is also a primer for the upcoming district tournaments and state playoffs.
"It's a chance for all these great teams to make one last push before districts get under way," Flynn said.
In addition to perennial powers like the Panthers and Bucs, the tournament also rewards teams on the rise. Clearwater Central Catholic, Indian Rocks Christian and Boone are all making tournament debuts.
"It's definitely a big deal for us," IRC coach Mark Foster said. "When we found out we were invited I had to juggle some things around to make it work, but the cards fell the right way and we are very excited to be playing in it."
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.