Conference championship meets are an exercise in bragging rights, but they can be deceiving.
Injured and even borderline ailing wrestlers sometimes will pass on the quest for conference glory, knowing that while the those meets are important, they are only a step along the path to the ultimate goal — a state championship.
Regional qualifying meets for the states will be held Saturday at five locations statewide.
Eastern Maine championship meets will are scheduled for Skowhegan (Class A), Medomak Valley of Waldoboro (Class B) and Penobscot Valley of Howland (Class C), while Western Maine title meets are scheduled for Noble of North Berwick (Class A) and Wells (Classes B and C).
Opening-round matches are set to begin at 9:30 p.m. at all locations.
Wrestlers will be seeking to finish among the top four in their weight classes at the regionals in order to secure berths in the state championship meet, which for all classes will be held Feb. 7 at the Augusta Civic Center.
There also are regional championships at stake, with Skowhegan (Class A), Belfast (Class B) and Foxcroft Academy (Class C) the defending champions.
Defending state champion Belfast looms as the favorite to win its second straight Eastern B title after ending rival Camden Hills of Rockport’s 13-year reign as regional champion in 2008.
The Lions crowned three individual champions — Zach Shellabarger (152 pounds), Kote Aldus (160) and Travis Spencer (189) — while winning last weekend’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference overall and Class B titles.
Camden Hills, third overall at the KVACs and second among Class B teams, should be the Lions’ chief competition, with Zac Fields (130) and Jack Simpkins (140) coming off individual championship efforts at the KVACs.
Foxcroft Academy has won the Eastern C title each of the last five years, but Penobscot Valley Conference champion Bucksport and runner-up Dexter loom as the 2009 favorites.
Bucksport earned 11 top-four finishes at the PVCs, including firsts from Shawn Powell (152), Steve Klenowski (160) and Josh Dunbar (215) and seconds from Dale Sweet (125), River Robertson (189) and Robbie Maguire (285).
Dexter produced the most individual champions at the PVCs in Michael O’Connor (112), Brian O’Connor (130), Ron Harvey (140) and Doug Richardson (189), and given that the Eastern Maine meet includes a smaller field of wrestlers than the PVCs, the regional title may come down to which team fares best in head-to-head matches.
The Eastern A meet could be a tight contest, with Skowhegan riding the momentum of its KVAC Class A crown but Cony of Augusta, Morse of Bath, Mount Ararat of Topsham all capable of challenging the Indians.