The venue is new but the competition figures to be just as tough at this weekend’s 51st Spartan Wrestling Annual Tournament in Sanford.

The two-day event – long considered the toughest and deepest regular-season tournament in Maine – begins at 5 p.m. Friday at the new Sanford High, which opened in October. In years past, the Spartan tournament was held at the city-owned Memorial Gym, with top out-of-state teams providing Maine high school wrestlers with stern tests before the postseason.

After two rounds Friday night, the tournament continues Saturday morning. The championship finals are expected to start at 4 to 5 p.m.

For many coaches, fans and wrestlers, the new high school gym will feel foreign. Memorial Gym, with its elevated stage and balcony seating on both sides, allowed fans full sight lines to all three competition mats.

“I’m going to miss Memorial Gym immensely,” said Sanford Coach Nate Smith. “It’s nice to write some new history but it’s going to be missed by a lot of people, not just by Sanford people.”

Timberlane Regional of Plaistow, New Hampshire, will return to defend its team title. Last year the Owls – a perennial New England power – had 12 finalists, six champions and rolled up 288 points. Marshwood placed second with 168.5 points.

Last year, strong out-of-state teams from Connecticut (Danbury and Xavier) and Rhode Island (North Providence and Cumberland) were unable to attend because of a snowstorm. Those four schools are expected to return this year.

Smith said the team title will be “a bloodbath between Timberlane and Danbury.”

Marshwood, the defending Class A state champion, likely has the best chance to contend among Maine schools, Smith said. Camden Hills, Mountain Valley and Wells, the defending Class B champion, could score significant points.

Wells will make just its second appearance at the tournament and its first since 2004, said Coach Scott Lewia. The Warriors placed second at their own Atlantic Invitational won by Marshwood on Dec. 23 and were sixth last weekend at the Noble Invitational.

Camden Hills finished second at the Noble Invitational, a half-point behind Cony. Noah Lang of Camden Hills won the 145-pound division. He didn’t allow a point while racking up five first-period wins.

In all, 18 wrestling programs are expected to compete in Sanford, including Biddeford, Bonny Eagle, Massabesic, Noble, Portland/South Portland, Scarborough and York/Traip Academy.

Several wrestlers are expected back after winning individual titles last season at the Spartan tournament, including Bonny Eagle sophomore Colby Frost, named the Most Outstanding Wrestler as a 106-pounder.

Frost has wrestled at 126 and 132 pounds in dual meets this season.

Other defending champions include Portland senior Zack Elowitch (at 152 pounds), Marshwood sophomore Sean Moriarty (113), Camden Hills senior Dawson Allen (120), Marshwood senior Dylan Strong (170) and Sanford senior Sol Demers (220).

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

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