By Ernie Clark of the Bangor Daily News - Last weekend's high school wrestling conference championship meets were all about bragging rights, and a test run for challenges to come.
But this weekend truly begins the quest for the gold.
High school wrestlers from throughout the state will compete in regional championship meets Saturday, all trying to qualify for next weekend's state championships at the Augusta Civic Center.
The Eastern Maine meets will be held at Cony High School of Augusta (Class A), Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro (Class B), and Bucksport High School (Class C). The Western Maine meets are scheduled for Sanford High School (Class A) and Mountain Valley High School in Rumford (Classes B and C).
Oxford Hills of South Paris, Camden Hills of Rockport, and Bucksport are coming off conference-winning performances last weekend, with Oxford Hills claiming the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A crown, Camden Hills retaining the KVAC Class B championship, and Bucksport earning top honors in the Penobscot Valley Conference.
But while each of those teams can feed off the momentum that comes from those successes, there is no carryover effect related to the goal of winning a state title.
For one thing, the fields for the regionals will be different than they were for the conference meets, which mixed teams from different classes, so last weekend's results won't necessarily be repeated this Saturday.
"This was a great tournament, extremely competitive," said Bucksport coach Larry Clement after the PVCs. "But in the big picture it means very little. [This] week is the big tournament up to that point, and then of course the state meet.
"The PVCs are a great tournament, great competition, and a nice thing to add to our season, but [this] week means everything."
Bucksport placed 10 wrestlers in the championship and consolation finals last Saturday and earned four first-place finishes to defeat second-place Dexter and third-place Foxcroft Academy at the PVCs. Those three teams also should be the top contenders for the Eastern Maine crown, a title Foxcroft has won each of the last three years.
In addition, Dexter senior Jeremiah Barkac needs just one victory to become the state's all-time leader in individual victories. Undefeated against Maine competition during his four-year career, Barkac used a pin in the 112-pound final at the PVCs to tie the state record of 180 victories held by former Noble of North Berwick standout Decota Cotten.
Camden Hills is coming off an impressive performance at the KVACs, defeating midcoast rival Belfast 195.5-150. The Windjammers had three individual champions compared to five for Belfast but used their depth to earn the team victory.
Those teams are expected to battle again this weekend for the EM title, with Camden Hills seeking its 13th consecutive regional crown.
Those teams finished 1-2 at last year's regional, with Camden Hills outscoring Belfast 212-193.5.
Oxford Hills placed third overall at the KVACs to win that conference's Class A title and should contend for a regional championship won last year by Mount Ararat of Topsham.
In Western Maine, eight-time defending state champion Noble and Massabesic of Waterboro are likely to be top contenders for Class A regional honors. Noble is coming off a victory Saturday at the Southern Maine Classic, winning five weight classes and placing second in three others to outscore Massabesic 257.5-211.5.
Dirigo of Dixfield, the preseason favorite statewide in Class C, defeated reigning Class B state champion Mountain Valley and 2006 Class C state champ Lisbon to win the Mid-State League title a week ago.
Dirigo and Lisbon are expected to battle for the Western C crown, while Mountain Valley is favored in Western B.
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