Ben Lieuwen and the MEI boys volleyball team are welcoming an elite field for their annual invitational tourney this week.

Ben Lieuwen and the MEI boys volleyball team are welcoming an elite field for their annual invitational tourney this week.

MEI’s boys volleyball tourney brings together elite teams from B.C., Alberta, Manitoba

Abbotsford’s preeminent high school boys volleyball tournament has a new look this year.

Abbotsford’s preeminent high school boys volleyball tournament has a new look this year.

Mennonite Educational Institute’s annual invitational tourney, which opens today, has made a few key adjustments to allow participating teams to attend the the NORCECA Championship, a major international men’s volleyball event being held down the road at the Langley Events Centre.

The field has been trimmed from 20 to 12 elite teams, and Langley Christian will share hosting duties during pool play. Pool A games will be at MEI’s secondary and middle school gyms, while Pool B will be contested at Langley Christian.

Fewer teams means fewer games, and spreading them out between MEI and Langley Christian means the schedule will wrap up mid-afternoon each day, freeing up teams to watch the NORCECA Championships in the evening.

“This is about as good of a high school tournament as you’re going to see,” Eagles head coach Jordan Geransky said. “It’s a more intimate tournament, but I think it’ll be pretty valuable for all the teams.”

Indeed, the field may smaller, but it’s stronger than ever, headlined by a pair of elite teams from out of province.

The Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute Hawks of Winnipeg are the defending Manitoba AAAA champs and are ranked No. 1 again this fall, while the Grande Prairie Composite Tomahawks won the Alberta AAAA title in 2011 and were sixth last year.

They’ll be tested by a strong crop of B.C. squads. Three of the top five AAA programs last season – No. 1 Oak Bay, No. 3 Kelowna and No. 5 Penticton – are in attendance, along with the Earl Marriott Mariners of Surrey, who will likely open the 2013 season atop the AAA rankings.

The field also features four of the top five provincial AA finishers last season – defending champ Langley Christian, No. 3 MEI, No. 4 Okanagan Mission and No. 5 Langley Fundamental.

The host Eagles, who have won eight AA titles in the last 11 years, are coming off a memorable summer which saw them finish fifth at an international tourney in Beijing, China.

“Most of the teams we were playing were volleyball academies first and foremost, where all of their athletes are going to be signed by pro teams right out of school,” Geransky noted.

“It was pretty special to be a part of . . . We’ve obviously taken a lot away from it. You can see it in the way we’re training at the beginning of the year – we’re at a completely different level than we would normally be this time of year.”

The Eagles kick off their home tourney with a 10:30 a.m. game vs. MBCI on Thursday at MEI Secondary. On Friday, pool-play action begins at 10 a.m. All of Saturday’s playoff games will be held at MEI, beginning at 11 a.m. and culminating in the final at 2:45 p.m. at the middle school.

The event will also include an exhibition game between the Columbia Bible College Bearcats and the Trinity Western Spartans men’s teams at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the middle school. On Saturday from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m., also at the middle school, there will be a coaches clinic featuring Ron Pike and Ben Josephson, both of whom have coached national championship-winning teams at Trinity Western, and MEI alum Ben Ball, who was the CIS player of the year in 2012 with the Spartans.