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Qualifier coming this weekend

The Tampa Convention Center will have so many volleyballs will be flying around this weekend , it will like an enormous popcorn machine.

That's because the ASICS Tampa Bay National Junior Volleyball Qualifier will be in town with 264 teams from across the country competing in as many 30 matches at once. It also means more than 7,000 players, coaches, family and major Division I college scouts will be milling around from Friday morning until Sunday afternoon.

"In a word, it's huge," said Melaney O'Carroll, who is the tournament's co-director along with Lauri Dagostino. "To give you an idea of how big this tournament is, consider that our tournament pairings sheet is about 100 pages."

Depending on the division, the top four teams or the top two teams from 48-team brackets will advance to the Junior National Championships held June 28-July 9 in Denver.

The local entrants feature two top contenders _ the Tampa Bay Junior Volleyball club's 16-and-under black team (seeded second), and the TBJVB club's 18-under black squad (seeded 12th).

Both of those teams start well-known local talent such as the Times

player of the year, Merran Miller of Berkeley Prep, Maren Stuart and Jolene Patton from Tampa Prep, and Shelbylynn McBride and Bethany Stephens from Durant.

Teams will have to win eight or nine games to reach Sunday's finals, which begin at 8 a.m. and are expected to run until 3 p.m.

"It's just amazing how much this tournament has grown," O'Carroll said of the qualifier, which is just one of eight held at different times throughout the country. "When it first started nine years ago we had 24 teams enter. Now look at it. It's unbelievable."