Since the program's beginning in the 1970s, Sam Houston State University volleyball has hosted an early season intercollegiate tournament at Bernard G. Johnson 26 times.

A total of 13 years, the Bearkats have emerged the tournament champions.

As the University of Colorado, Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas Southern and the host Kats gather Friday for the 27th Sam Houston Volleyball Invitational, SHSU stands as the defending tournament champions.

All six matches of the tournament will be streamed by the Bearkat Sports Network. A subscription is required to watch all BSN online events.

The Kats topped Rutgers, A&M-Corpus Christi, Louisiana Tech and Texas-Pan American for the title last year. SHSU has also posted tournament championships in its own home event in 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1997 and 2009.

Sam Houston head coach Brenda Gray enters her 29th season as the leader of the Bearkats and has amassed an impressive 575 wins and is one of 29 active NCAA Division I with more than 500 career wins.

Gray's Bearkats finished third in the Southland  in 2011 with an 11-5 mark in conference play while going 17-12 overall, including an 11-1 record at home.

The 2012 Bearkat team returns four starters including three preseason All-Southland Conference selections.

Kim Black and Kaylee Hawkins are first team selections and Kendall Cleveland is a second team choice on the 2012 preseason All-Southland Conference Volleyball Teams, the league has announced.

Black, a first-team all-conference selection last season from Huntsville, Texas, led the Bearkats to an 11-1 home record, including a 3-1 win over Big East representative Rutgers. The senior finished fifth in blocks per set (1.07) and is one of four returning starters.

Kaylee Hawkins and Kendall Cleveland also are seniors for the Kat squad that returns four seniors.  

Hawkins played in all but one match last season for the Bearkats and finished fifth on the team with 1.62 kills per set.

Cleveland, a Houston, Texas, native, appeared in every match last season and produced 1.69 kills per set ranking fourth on the team.

Sam Houston faces a strong field in the 2012 volleyball invitational.

Colorado returns four start­ers from the 2011 team that recorded a 6-24 overall record. Senior Kerra Schroeder, the team's captain for the third consecutive season, led the Buffs and ranked seventh in the Pac-12 Conference with 3.95 kills per set.

Schroeder started in all 30 matches and played in each of the 109 sets. She also added 2.62 digs per set, which was second on the team and 0.40 blocks per set.

Also returning for the Buffs this season

Texas Southern returns all six of its starters from the 2011 squad that fin­ished 5-23 overall. The Tigers were 3-5 (fourth) in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Buffs faced TSU once before on Sept. 6, 2008, and won in three sets (25-11, 25-23, 25-11).

Louisiana-Lafayette finished the 2011 campaign with a 14-18 record (6-10 in the Sun Belt Conference). The Ragin' Cajuns lost two starters and return four starters plus their libero. This is the first meeting between the two schools.

Tournament action begins with Colorado taking on Texas Southern at 4 p.m. Friday. The Bearkats meet Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m.

Saturday action features four matches with Colorado and the Ragin' Cajuns meeting at 10 a.m.; SHSU battling Texas Southern at 1 p.m.; Louisiana-Lafayette facing TSU at 4 p.m. and the Kats finishing the day against Colorado at 7 p.m.

Tickets for the tournament are on sale online at or at the SHSU athletic ticket office located in the Ron Mafrige Field House in the south end zone at Bowers Stadium.