Starting this weekend, it's do-or-die time for area high school wrestlers.
Sectional tournaments will be held Saturday at two locations, Danville and Hughesville, and only the top three finishers in each weight class advance to districts.
All area school that have wrestling programs will compete at the two Class AA sectionals, with the exception of Berwick and Shamokin, which await Class AAA
district competition next weekend. But among the hundreds of wrestlers competing this weekend, one stands out. Benton sophomore Mike Robinson is the lone
remaining area wrester with a perfect record. Robinson is 24-0 at 145 pounds. "He has been a hard worker all year and is a real tough wrestler," said Benton coach
Scott Hughes. "He has been wrestling up a weight class or two all season and has beaten some pretty good kids." Most notably, Robinson, wrestling at 160 pounds,
pinned previously unbeaten Jim Gregor of Wilkes-Barre Meyers. Robinson has also pinned Greg Knouse of Middleburg and scored a major decision over Justin
Johnson of Wyalusing at 160, and beat Jason Eck of Montgomery at 152 pounds. "Gregor is ranked third in the state at 160," said Hughes. "And Eck is sixth in the
state. Johnson placed fifth at states last year and Knouse was a runner-up at regionals. "These kids he's beating are some real good wrestlers. "It is not always
definite, though, that a wrestler who takes an undefeated record into sectionals will advance. Consider Mount Carmel's Jason Malakoski, for instance.
Last year, Malakoski was 20-0 entering the South Sectional, suffered a shocking loss in the consolation round and finished fourth, his season abruptly halted.
"(Malakoski's) 19-1 this year at heavyweight and I'd like to count him as being a lock, but you never know," said Mount Carmel coach Kurt Schneck. "I think he is
more confident this year, because he remembers what happened last year. He is hungry to make it to states." The East Central Sectionals will be staged at
Hughesville H.S. starting at 11 a.m., with the consolation finals at 6 p.m. and the championship finals at 7:30. Schools competing at the all-
day event will be Benton, Bloomsburg, Central Columbia, Hughesville, Muncy, Columbia-Montour Vo-Tech and Warrior Run.
Along with Robinson, Benton will send a strong contingent of wrestlers to the sectional. Two-time state runner-up and three-time sectional champ
B.J. Wise is 23-1 at 119 pounds. Justin Thomas is 23-1 at 103 while Robinson's older brother John is 22-2 at 125. All are seniors. "B.J. is ranked
first in the state at 125 pounds, but will be wrestling at his tournament weight of 119," Hughes noted. "I expect Justin to do real well. He should come out on top.
And John lost his only two matches at 140 and 145, but is now down to his tournament weight, too. "We are the returning team champions, and we are hoping we
can repeat," Hughes said. "But I think we will be challenged by Hughesville and Bloomsburg. They have nice teams." For the Panthers, Ben Kreisher, wrestling
at 140 pounds, is one of the top guns. He is 23-2 this season and should be one of several Bloomsburg wrestlers advancing to districts. "It will be very tough to
advance a lot of guys, because our sectional teams have a lot of depth," said Bloomsburg coach Marc Freeman. "We should have quite a few go on, I think at least
five, but it will be tough. We'll have to see how things go." Central coach Todd Cummings believes Brian Troup at 103 pounds is the Blue Jays top hope. "He is
16- 6, but he is a freshman. All our kids are basically in the same boat, four have never wrestled in it, and four never made it out," Cummings said. "We are taking
four freshman and four juniors, and honestly I think most of them have a shot of making it out. "None of them are a shoo-in, but all of them are going into the
tournament with .500 or better records. They just need to wrestle well." At Danville, the Southern Sectional begins at 10 a.m. The finals are
scheduled for 7 p.m. Competing will be Danville, Lewisburg, Line Mountain, Middleburg, Mifflinburg, Mount Carmel, Southern
Columbia and West Snyder. "There is a strong field going to be there," said Southern coach Jim Becker. "It is well-balanced, and no one team will stand out
with talent. Every team has a couple good guys, and the team that wins it will do it in the wrestlebacks."Southern has several top grapplers expected to advance,
including P.J. Sargent, who is 24-1 and will wrestle at 140 pounds. Other top Tiger wrestlers include Nick Leshock, 24-2 at 130 pounds; Eric Steffen, 24-2
at 171; and Shaun Gaul, 17-3 at 189. Top placewinners from sectionals will compete next Friday and Saturday at the District 4 Class AA championships in