Many times in years past the Colonial League wrestling title was already determined by the last week of the season. The league championship trophy was given to the team with the best win-loss record at the end of the season or shared among teams that tied for the best record.

But that's all changed. This year, for the first time in league history, a four-team tournament will be held to determine the league's team champ.

Two division winners and two wild cards will square off next Saturday, February 18, with the winner taking home the league trophy.

"Anytime you can have the tournament atmosphere it becomes more exciting," said Northwestern head coach Jim Moll, whose team will not make this year's tournament. "Also, determining the champion at the end of the season allows for better wrestling to take place. Over the course of the season teams improve, get in better shape, and wrestlers have a chance to get down to their certification weight."

Northern Lehigh head coach Todd Herzog and other league coaches proposed this change a few years ago and finally were able to get it approved for this year.

The league reduced the number of regular-season matches this year to accommodate the tournament. The change has been met with widespread approval of coaches. With five fewer league matches than other years, teams have more flexibility in scheduling nonleague matches and tournaments.

"I like that we could get a couple more points to wrestle some different teams," said Palmerton head coach Dave Lavin, whose team can secure a wild card spot with a win over Northern Lehigh tonight. "And then we're also getting some matches [at the tournament], assuming we qualify."

That flexibility allows teams to schedule opponents that they can compete with.

"I like the changes made to the colonial league schedule," said Moll. "It allows teams to tailor their schedule to fit their team a lot better."

Holding a postseason tournament also helps the four qualifiers prepare for their district postseason.

But the biggest benefit to the league tournament is that the championship team can't clinch the title on a night off. There's no backing into it anymore. And there's no sharing of titles in the event of a tie. The championship is settled exactly where it should be.

"I always like to be able to determine a winner," Moll said. "So getting rid of the co-champ is a good thing. This way they league champion is determined on the mat."

The tournament will likely be held at either Catasauqua or Southern Lehigh high school this year.

There will be a semifinal round, a consolation match and then the championship bout. As part of the event, the All Colonial League team will be honored in between the consolation match and the final.

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COLONIAL LEAGUE UPDATE ... Pen Argyl finished 8-0 in the league to clinch the North Division while Saucon Valley's 8-0 mark earned the South Division title.

Palisades has also clinched a berth in the upcoming tournament. The Pirates ended 6-2 in the league, with their losses to Pen Argyl (32-22) and Saucon Valley (52-11).

Palmerton has the inside track on the fourth and final spot. The Blue Bombers are 5-2, having lost to Palisades (45-27) and Pen Argyl (44-15), and will clinch the spot with a win against Northern Lehigh tonight.

If Palmerton loses, Catasauqua (5-2) could claim the last playoff berth by beating Bangor (4-3). The Roughies and Slaters meet on Wednesday.

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THE SKIN-NY ON NORTHERN LEHIGH ... Northern Lehigh was forced to move two of its matches this past week. The Bulldogs were supposed to wrestle Northwestern last Wednesday and Palmerton this past Saturday.

The Bulldogs, however, picked up a skin ailment right after the Buckley Duals in Haverford.

While Northern Lehigh trainer John Swartz picked up on the condition quickly and the Bulldogs began treatment for it early, the team still couldn't practice or hold its meets. In fact, not all the wrestlers have been cleared for action this evening when they face Palmerton. A minimum of six should be able to go tonight while the team is hopeful to have eight in action.

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DISTRICT DUAL STATUS ... The District Duals for both Class AA and AAA will be held this weekend at Freedom High School.

Four TIMES NEWS area teams will be participating in the annual event.

Pleasant Valley currently sits fifth in the AAA rating.

In AA, Palmerton is seventh, Northern Lehigh is ninth and Lehighton is 10th. They have all already qualified.

Ratings are compiled through Wednesday's matches with the top 10 making the duals. A district committee will meet Thursday morning and decide the actual seedings for the event.

The preliminary rounds (for teams seeded seventh through 10th) will take place Friday at 4:30 p.m. with the quarterfinals set for 6 and 7:45 p.m.

The semifinals will be held Saturday, with Class AA starting at 11 a.m. and AAA at 1 p.m. Both finals will take place that evening at 6 p.m.