Last year when Skowhegan High won the Noble Invitational wrestling tournament, edging Noble, Foxcroft Academy and four-time defending Class A champion Marshwood, it was a sign of things to come.

Skowhegan went on to win its first Class A title and Foxcroft won Class B.

“Winning Noble was obviously a big milestone because we had never won that and it showed the kids that the idea of winning a state title was a real possibility,” said Brooks Thompson, Skowhegan’s co-head coach with Tenney Noyes.

“If we could win one of the toughest tournaments in the state, definitely the toughest that we go to, then we could beat the Marshwoods and the Nobles at the state tournament.”

The 35th annual Noble Invitational begins Thursday and ends Friday. Wrestling starts each day at 9:30 a.m. The tournament will proceed regardless of weather. A significant winter storm is predicted to start Thursday night and stretch into Friday morning.

“If they want to, teams can come down here and spend the night in the gym,” Noble Coach Kip DeVoll said. “It will be a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel and it will be one of those things they’ll remember and talk about no matter what they do in the tournament.”

The Noble tournament, and next weekend’s Spartan Invitational in Sanford, typically reveal which teams and individuals are in the top echelon in Maine.

“Usually the team that wins (the Noble) tournament wins at states and the highest (Class) B team wins at their states. It is a good indicator,” DeVoll said.

Up to 32 schools – most from Maine and including teams from New Hampshire and Vermont – are expected to compete at Noble. Skowhegan is back to defend its title, though the host Knights are favored. Marshwood is not attending. The Hawks went instead to the 72-team Lowell (Massachusetts) Invitational that ended Wednesday.

On Jan. 6-7, the Spartan Invitational will bring top out-of-state programs, including Timberlane, New Hampshire, and Danbury, Connecticut, along with Marshwood to Sanford. The Spartan tournament has fewer teams (Noble will be at a tourney in Chelmsford, Massachusetts) but plenty of top-end talent. In 2016, just four of the 14 weight classes were won by Maine wrestlers.

The value of the large midseason tournaments is “you’re in a bigger pool of talent so some of your better kids are going to get more competitive matches,” said Marshwood Coach Matt Rix. “And if they seed it properly, even your less talented kids are going to get a win out of it.”

The invitational tournaments can also be a place for young wrestlers to make a name for themselves.

That’s what Marshwood senior Bradley Beaulieu did at the Noble tournament his freshman year. He pulled off a last-second takedown to a near-fall to score five points and force overtime against then unbeaten Peter Del Gallo of Gardiner, a reigning New England champion. Del Gallo ended up winning 12-9 in the second overtime but Beaulieu showed the skill and competitiveness that has led him to three Class A titles, two top-three finishes at the New England championships and a college scholarship to Old Dominion.

Noble senior Austin Shorey cemented himself among the state’s elite as a sophomore with his invitational efforts. He beat three-time state champ Tyler Craig of Skowhegan in the Noble semifinals, then won the 120-pound title and was named the outstanding wrestler at the Sanford tournament.

“After I beat (Craig) I felt I could beat anybody and I started to wrestle like I could beat anybody,” Shorey said. “Then getting that win (at the Spartan) gave me the confidence to win bigger and better tournaments.”

Shorey went on to win the Class A title that season and was third at the New Englands as a junior. He now has 181 career wins.

Shorey, Beaulieu, Cody Craig of Skowhegan and Caleb Austin of Mountain Valley all entered the season with a chance to pass the Maine record of 212 career wins set by Cody Hughes of Marshwood.

Shorey, 17-0 this season and wrestling mostly at 145 pounds, agreed big invitational tournaments are an important part of achieving team and personal goals.

“Tournaments like this really help us as a team to see where other teams are at and what we need to work harder at,” Shorey said. “It shows us what we need to do to win that state title as a team and win that state title as an individual.”

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