The Gardiner wrestling program turns 50 this season, and on Saturday it will host the 44th Tiger Invitational. John Smith, a former physical education teacher at the high school, founded the tournament.

Smith recruited 20 students in 1967 to form the first squad of wrestlers and began the tournament in 1974.

“I started the Tiger as a way to bring a little variety to the season,” said Smith. “All the other regular-season events were just dual meets.”

It was the first regular-season tournament held in the state and was comprised of just four teams in its inaugural season. There will be 13 teams competing Saturday.

Gardiner coach Matt Hanley says Cony and Nokomis are the teams to beat.

“Cony has a lot of experience and good depth,” he said.

The Rams won the team title last season and return four wrestlers who won individual titles in Noah Dumas, Adrian Larrabee, Aaron Lettre and Nic Mills. Nokomis’ Quinton Richards and David Wilson won their weight classes last season, but Wilson has been sidelined by an injury suffered during football season and may not be ready to compete Saturday.

Maine Central Institute’s ZyAnthony Moss also returns to defend an individual title.

Other teams in attendance include: Morse, Mt Blue, Monmouth, Portland, Westbrook, Kennebunk, York, Bonny Eagle, and Cheverus.

Wrestling is expected to begin at approximately 9:30 with the finals beginning around 3 p.m.

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Moss has opened his senior campaign at MCI with a bang, earning outstanding wrestler honors at the preseason Westlake Tournament on Dec. 2 in Bath after winning his 126-pound weight class. Moss was a Class B regional champion and state runner-up last season. He won two matches by pin before beating Mt Ararat’s Cody Holman by an 18-5 major decision in the championship finals.

Huskies coach Mike Libby liked what he saw at the Westlake Tournament.

“It may be just a new confidence and focus because he finished the season strong last year,” he said. “We also have higher team numbers this season, so he has more bodies to work with in the practice room.”

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After a few preseason tournaments, Cony showed it will be a team to be reckoned with this season. The Rams won the preseason Westlake Tournament in dramatic fashion when Mitchell MacFarland won by pin in the 285-pound championship finals to provide enough team points to nip runner-up Skowhegan. Dumas (113) and Mills (195) also won individual titles.

Cony finished second to defending Class A champions Marshwood at the Westbrook tournament last Saturday. Dumas (113) and Mills (195) again won their weight classes. Mills was named the tournament’s outstanding wrestler. MacFarland (285) also reached the championship finals, along with teammates Jacob Arbour (152), Kayne Bowden (160) and Lettre (182).

“I am very happy with how our team has been performing in the early season tournaments,” Cony coach Shawn Totman said. “Coming from behind and winning the Westlake Tournament was really exciting for our guys and competing tough and having a chance to win down in Westbrook has showed what potential there is on this team.”

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Richmond finally has its first team competitions behind it. While the Bobcats came up short in dual meets against Lisbon/Oak Hill and Dirigo, coach Mark Taylor said he was pleased with his team’s performances.

“It was great,” he said. “We had some wins and pins and learned a ton. To see these kids actually get the opportunity to compete was the greatest thing I have ever been part of. The kids are very eager to get back out and compete some more.”

Trystin Shea suffered a broken nose during the competition, but the injury left him undaunted, Taylor added.

“He didn’t want to stop wrestling,” he said. “The nose was hurt, but the mind was strong. It did not affect him in any way. He was back at it.”

Rey Gajilan (120), Cyrus Logan (220) and Jordan Perry (195) won individual titles Saturday.