The high school volleyball regular season ends this weekend, but seven local teams will get an excellent opportunity to tune up before next week's district tournaments when they join the 16-team field at the 10th Annual Tampa Bay Invitational Tournament, sponsored by Tampa Prep today and Saturday at the University of Tampa and Tampa Prep.
"I think we've got the best teams in Florida;" said Tampa Prep coach Carol Chalu, pondering the elite field of state teams, "I don't think we're missing anybody.
A slight exaggeration, but next month's state tournament would be fortunate to have such a strong field.
Indeed, 14 teams in this weekend's tournament are ranked in the latest state polls, including two No. 1s: undefeated Class 5A Stuart Martin County and Berkeley Prep (22-3), the No. 2 seed; three No. 2s: Boca Raton Spanish River (6A), Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons (4A) and the host Terrapins (3A), the top seed.
Other local entrants include Chamberlain (No. 5 in 6A) and Academy of the Holy Names (No. 6 in 3A).
"These are the kind of tournaments we want to play in," said Chamberlain coach Gregg Latter, whose team was seeded last of 12 in the Berkeley Prep Premier Tournament two weeks ago at UT, but got a big morale boost with a ninth-place finish. "We beat the No. 2 team in 6A (Middleburg, now ranked fourth). What a lift."
The field has been divided into four pools. Each team will play three games against the teams in its pool beginning at 5 p.m. today, with three games simultaneously at UT's Bob Martinez Sports Center and a fourth court at Tampa Prep's gym. Pool play continues tonight and Saturday morning beginning at 9 a.m. before the top two teams in each pool are seeded in the championship bracket and the others square off in a consolation bracket.
Championship quarterfinals are at noon Saturday, followed by semifinals at 2 and the title game at 3:30 at UT.