GAINESVILLE -- It was 10 years ago that the Lanier Pointe Invitational Softball tournament changed its format as an attempt to attract some of the state's best teams to one of the best facilities in Georgia.
Little did organizers know that a decade later the two-day fastpitch tournament would become one of the premier events to open every season.
The 11th annual tournament will kick-off the 2013 season Friday at the Lanier Pointe Softball complex with one of the deepest fields in recent memory.
Nearly two dozen teams, 21 to be exact, which is the largest field since the tournament switched to a fastpitch format in 2003, will begin play at 6:15 p.m.
Hank Heffner of the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Department said it has been a tournament that has continued to grow in size and stature.
"It started as a slow-pitch tournament but we switched to fastpitch and it really began to take off," he said. "I think it's one of the premier tournaments in the state."
Defending champion Dawson County returns to defend its title, as does 2011 champion Union County, which finished second last year.
Local teams East Hall, Gainesville, Flowery Branch, West Hall, Chestatee, Johnson, and North Hall all will be participating. Rabun County, Banks County, Commerce, Fannin County, Duluth, Johns Creek, Norcross, Dunwoody, Lanier, East Jackson, Habersham Central, and Gilmer round out the field.
Dawson County coach Jim Pruett said opening the season at Lanier Pointe is a great way to see where you are, and where you may need to go. They rode the momentum of winning the tournament to a Sweet 16 appearance in the Class AAA state playoffs.
"We've always enjoyed playing the tournament but each year offers you different challenges and gives different answers," Pruett said. "Last year we knew we had a team that could win it and we were trying to make sure we had the right people in the right spots. Winning the tournament really gave us a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.
"This year, we're a pretty young team and we're going into the tournament to see what we have and where we need to improve. We'll know a lot more about ourselves no matter what happens."
The Lady Tigers lost 2012 Class AAA Pitcher of the Year Jenna Abbott to graduation and will be looking to see who steps up to fill her shoes.
The tournament will have a round-robin format for the first three rounds followed by double-elimination bracket in gold and silver brackets, which will begin Saturday afternoon. The top two teams in each pool group will advance to the gold bracket.