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It's considered by many to be the Rose Bowl of Pennsylvania boys' volleyball.

Why is that, you might ask?

Well, quite simply, the Koller Classic Volleyball Invitational is the “granddaddy” of the state high school tournament circuit.

Longtime Central York coaches Bruce and Barb Koller started the event way back in 1976 with just six teams.

In the four decades since, under succeeding coaches Brad Livingston and now Todd Goodling, the event has mushroomed into a can't-miss happening for many, if not most, of the state's top programs.

It's also been deservedly renamed to honor the founders of the invitational.

The 42nd incarnation of the event is set for this weekend at Central York High School.

As usual, the elite of Pennsylvania high school boys' volleyball will compete. In many ways, the tournament will serve as a preview of what to expect at the PIAA Championships in June at Penn State.

State powers will be there: In all, 11 of the 20 participating teams are ranked in the top 10 of their respective classes in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association polls, including 3-A No. 1 North Allegheny and 2-A No. 1 Northeastern.

By now, everyone knows about the Bobcats. They've won four straight 2-A state titles and, despite losing their entire starting lineup from last season, are on top of the 2-A state rankings again.

This year's edition of the Bobcats, however, doesn't appear to be quite as invincible as last year's dominating squad. They've been pushed to the brink of defeat on a number of occasions.

Still, Northeastern always seems to find a way to win and will almost certainly be a major factor in this weekend's event, especially after winning their own prestigious Bobcat Invitational a couple weeks back.

There's no guarantee, however, that Northeastern or North Allegheny will walk away with the Koller title on Saturday evening.

A couple of York County teams are sure to have great expectations this weekend.

The host school, ranked No. 4 in 3-A, would like nothing more than to win its own championship.

York Suburban, meanwhile, comes in at No. 4 in 2-A and would love to erase the bitter taste of a couple narrow losses to state powers, including a pair to Northeastern, by capturing a breakthrough triumph.

Here are the other ranked 3-A teams that have their own dreams about winning the Koller crown: No. 2 Emmaus (which lost a close contest to Northeastern in the Bobcat Invitational title match), No. 3 Central Dauphin, No. 5 Hempfield (the defending 3-A state champion), No. 7 Penn Manor and No. 8 Pennsbury.

Other 2-A ranked teams competing are No. 5 Cambridge Springs and No. 6 Ambridge.

The field is rounded out by 2-A programs from Derry, Maplewood and Montour. They are joined by 3-A programs from Chambersburg, Cumberland Valley, Dallastown, Exeter, Parkland and State College. Those programs might not currently be ranked, but they are familiar names to anyone who follows elite Pennsylvania volleyball.

Surviving a gauntlet: Whichever team emerges as the winner on Saturday night will have survived a gauntlet of the state's top programs.

The eventual champion also will  have the honor of receiving the title award from the Kollers, who led the Central program for more than three decades (1970-2001).

The junior varsity division begins play at 4 p.m. Friday.

The main event, the varsity competition, starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, with pool-play action, followed by first- and second-round playoffs, the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship match.

Tickets will be sold at the door, and prices  each day are $2 for students and $5 for adults.

That seems like quite a bargain to witness the top volleyball programs in the state.

— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com.

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