For the first time, Maine’s entries for the New England championships will be decided in a designated New England qualifier tournament.

The tourney will take place Feb. 20 at Nokomis High in Newport. The top four finishers in each weight class from each of the Class A, B and C state championships are eligible to compete.

In the past, Maine’s three representatives per weight class were the state champions. If one chose not to attend, then a runner-up could go as an alternate.

Now the best from each class will square off and the top three will move on regardless of the size of their schools.

“I love it. I love the New England qualifier,” Portland Coach Tony Napolitano said. “If we’re going to send kids to the New Englands, let’s make sure the best kids are going.”

“Sometimes we have a Class B runner-up who can beat the Class A champ or vice versa,” Biddeford Coach Steve Vermette said. “It’s very positive.”

Al Kirk of Deering, back for a 36th season as a wrestling coach, said he’s been in favor of such a format for many years “because it’s fair.”

Camden Hills Coach Patrick Kelly said it also gives a top wrestler a second chance.

“It allows kids to vie for a state title and not have to be perfect on that day,” Kelly said.

At first blush the new format would seem to benefit the larger schools simply because their state championships are likely to be deeper.

Mark Stevens, coach at Class C Lisbon, said he’s also in favor of having a qualifying tournament “because it puts all the cards on the table,” and added, “after the handshake it doesn’t matter what class you are.”

For this year the seeding has already been formatted. Class A champs at 106, 126, 145, 170 and 220 will be the top seeds. The Class B champs at 113, 132, 152, 182 and 285 will get the No. 1 ranking. Class C champs will be ranked first at 120, 138, 160 and 195.

Other benefits, according to coaches, of having a qualifying tournament are that it helps guarantee a wrestler is committed to going to the New Englands, and having the tourney midway between the state championships and the New England meet will help wrestlers maintain their fitness and focus. 

MARSHWOOD HIGH Coach Matt Rix recorded his 500th career victory when the Hawks were competing at a tournament in New Hampshire on Dec. 7.

Last Wednesday he was honored at Marshwood’s home dual meet with Kennebunk. In addition, a new 100-win board was unveiled with 31 names on it dating back to the school’s first 100-win wrestler, the current assistant coach, Todd Hughes, who accomplished the feat in 1990.

Marshwood will soon add two names to the board.

Juniors Cody Hughes – Todd’s son – and Jackson Howarth posted their 100th wins while Rix was winning his 500th. 

INVITATIONAL SEASON: The next three weekends feature large invitational meets in the area that often give a good indication of how a team will fare in the regional championships.

Wells High hosts 16 teams Saturday for the Atlantic Invitational, with the consolation finals expected to begin about 4 p.m., according to Coach Scott Lewia.

Western Class A contenders Marshwood and Noble will see each other for the first time this season, while the hosts will get a good look at expected Western Class B contender Mountain Valley.

Wells has been forfeiting up to six matches in dual meets but has been very competitive in contested matches.

The next two weeks the quality of competition increases even more.

The Noble Tournament (Dec. 27-28) currently has 29 teams entered, including the top Western teams, Eastern powers Skowhegan from Class A, and the Class B triumvirate of Ellsworth, Foxcroft Academy and Camden Hills, and out-of-state squads.

Similarly, the Spartan Invitational in Sanford (Jan. 3-4) has many of the top Maine squads and an even stronger out-of-state lineup, led by Timberlane (Plaistow, N.H.) and Danbury, Conn.

A year ago Timberlane won the meet and Danbury finished second. 

MUSTANG DUALS: Massabesic hosted eight teams for the inaugural Mustang Duals on Saturday, with each team getting five matches.

“This is the first year we’ve done it,” Massabesic Coach Rick DeRosier said. “We had two pools of four teams and the big thing was to make sure each team got five matches. We could put some of our JVs in some matches, they could put in theirs, and everyone could wrestle.”

DeRosier said he liked the lineup flexibility provided by a dual meet format, particularly early in the season when roster spots are still unsettled.

In the highlight matchup of the day, Marshwood topped Massabesic, 47-30.

“It let us know where we stand against them, and against other teams,” DeRosier said.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at:

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