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Tourney to test area's top teams

Keswick Christian coach Karrmayne King said she knows her volleyball tournament is tough. After all, the Crusaders haven't won it since 1987.

Yet while Keswick has had a hard time winning its own tournament, it has nevertheless helped the school achieve loftier goals. The Crusaders have used it as a springboard to advance to the state tournament the past two seasons.

"The big thing is it's a chance for teams to come together," King said. "That's what we've done and that's one of the reasons I schedule it so early in the season. It's a lot of matches in a short amount of time against quality competition."

This season is no different. The 17th annual Keswick Invitational features 16 teams, including eight ranked in the latest state poll.

Missing is defending champion Gainesville Oak Hall. The Eagles, who won the Class A title last season and are ranked No. 1 in Class 2A, bowed out because they are hosting their own tournament for the first time later this season.

Oak Hall had been the Crusaders' spoilers for some time, twice denying them a shot at a state title. The Eagles beat Keswick in the state semifinals in 1999 and in the state final last season. While it would have been nice to play Oak Hall at home, the Crusaders will have to wait until they play in the Eagles' tournament for revenge.

"It's always nice to have your defending champion back," King said. "Of course, we have extra motivation to play them (Oak Hall). But it doesn't matter where, as long as we get a chance to play them this season."

So who will win the Keswick Invitational?

Who knows.

"I couldn't really tell you," King said. "I think there's a lot of parity. It's really wide open."