One of the challenges for District 11 wrestling coaches is keeping their teams focused in February.

After two grueling months of competition, leading up to the District 11 Duals, grapplers can experience a bit of a lull before the postseason kicks into high gear with the D-11 championships during February's final weekend.

Compounding the situation, District 11 does not compete in a Sectional tournament, which creates the gap of an extra week before the D-11 individual tournament.

The Schuylkill League and Mountain Valley Conference continue their regular dual meet schedules beyond District Duals, which generates some interest. There's also a smattering of individual non-league matches or even a stray round-robin tourney.

Teams that hope to qualify for District Duals tend to frontload their schedules in order to fit in all of their dual meets prior to the District 11 committee's deadline. If a team makes the top 10 in either Class AAA or AA, then packing all those meets into the first two months was probably worthwhile.

If a team misses the cut for District Duals, however, it could be looking at a long spell between competitions.

That happened to Northwestern Lehigh. Over the past decade, the Tigers had been regular contenders for the District 11 Duals Class AA crown, making the finals five straight years between 2004-08 and winning the title in 2007 and 2008.

This season, the Tigers completed their dual meet competition on Jan. 29 with matches against Bangor and Pen Argyl. Their record of 8-11 had them ranked 11th in Class AA, one spot away from a District berth.

That marked the first time Northwestern failed to make District Duals since 2003, snapping a string of seven straight appearances.

"We were the 11th team, and we just missed out, which makes it tougher and longer to go without a regular competition," said Northwestern coach James Moll.

Moll isn't apologizing for the Tigers' schedule, which included trips to the National High School Coaches Association festival at Pleasant Valley, as well as the Whitehall Zephyr Duals. Northwestern went 0-4 at the NHSCA fest and 2-3 at Whitehall against some strong competition. That was in addition to tough individual tournaments at Nazareth and the Bethlehem Holiday Classic.

"We try to get the best competition we can," stressed Moll. "Our goal is for individual Districts first. We want our kids prepared for the postseason, so it benefits them in the long run. If our record takes a bit of a hit because of it, so be it."

With almost a month to prepare for the District championships, Moll has worked to keep his wrestlers focused in a number of ways.

"You have to keep it fresh for the kids, so we try and change our practices as much as we can," Moll explained. "We have a morning running program we do that we started the second week of January, and we look to scrimmage competition that will get us ready for Districts."

For the Tigers, that meant some workouts with Lehigh Valley Conference clubs Liberty and Freedom. While Northwestern will compete in Class AA for Districts, stepping up in class for practice should be beneficial.

The Tigers have a number of wrestlers poised to make a good showing at Districts this weekend.

Seniors Bobby Clymer (24-4 at 152) and Kyle Sorensen (23-6 at 160) both finished fifth at Districts a year ago, just missing a berth at Regionals. Other Tigers that carry winning marks into Districts include seniors Dustin Badesso (13-9 at 135), L.J. Walker (17-11 at 189) and Alec Eidelman (14-13 at 285), juniors Levi Veppert (24-5 at 171) and Ethan Keichel (17-9 at 125) and sophomore Michael Ortiz (18-4 at 130).

So far, the highlight of the season for the Tigers was a 37-24 win over archrival Northern Lehigh.

"That is always a tough match, so it was probably the biggest win for us," noted Moll. "I was also happy with the way we wrestled against Bangor and Pen Argyl. It was our best week of wrestling all season."

The Tigers have since had ample time to focus on Districts, and they can demonstrate this weekend if the time was well spent.

"Our goal is always to make District Duals and get our matches in before that, but we are really looking to peak at the end of the season," mentioned Moll. "The quality of wrestling at Districts is good, and sometimes it is tougher to make it out of the District than it is to get out of Regionals."

*********

FINAL RECORDS - Here is how the eight wrestling teams in THE TIMES NEWS area finished their dual meet seasons.

1. Pleasant Valley 13-6 (5-1 MVC - District Duals qualifier)

2. Palmerton 12-7 (7-4 Colonial League - District Duals qualifier)

3. Northern Lehigh 10-8 (8-3 Colonial League)

4. Tamaqua 12-10 (3-3 Schuylkill Division I - District Duals qualifier)

5. Panther Valley 12-11 (5-0 Schuylkill Division II champion)

6. Lehighton 11-13 (1-5 MVC - District Duals qualifier)

7. Northwestern 8-11 (6-5 Colonial League)

8. Jim Thorpe 5-12 (0-6 Schuylkill Division I)

********

DISTRICTS ON TAP THIS WEEKEND - The District 11 Wrestling Championships in Bethlehem kick off the Road to Hershey this weekend.

On Friday, the Class AAA tournament begins at LIberty High School while the AA field competes at crosstown Freedom. The finals for both AAA and AA will be held at Liberty's Memorial Gym on Saturday night beginning at 7:15 p.m.

The following are capsule looks at the AAA and AA tournaments.

Class AA Tournament

Schedule - Friday, Feb. 25: (at Freedom High School) Pigtails/Preliminary Round 4 p.m.; Quarterfinals, 7 p.m.; First Round Consolations, 9 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 26: (at Freedom High School) Second Round Consolations, 9 a.m.; Semifinals/Third Round Consolations, 10:30 a.m.; Fourth Round Consolations, 1:30 p.m.; (at Liberty High School) Third/Fifth Place Consolations, 5 p.m., Finals, 7:15 p.m.

TIMES NEWS area teams participating - Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Northern Lehigh, Northwestern Lehigh, Palmerton, Panther Valley, Tamaqua.

Other teams - Allentown Central Catholic, Bethlehem Catholic, Catasauqua, Mahanoy Area, Moravian Academy, North Schuylkill, Notre Dame-Green Pond, Palisades, Pen Argyl, Pine Grove, Pius X, Salisbury, Saucon Valley, Schuylkill Haven, Tri-Valley, Williams Valley, Wilson Area.

Advancement - Top 4 placewinners at each weight class advance to Regionals.

Regional Tournament - Southeast Class AA Regional (Districts 1, 3 and 11) at Wilson West Lawn High School, March 4-5.

Returning TN Area Placewinners - Champion: Zane Heller (Northern Lehigh); 2nd place: Nick O'Donnell (Panther Valley), Nikko Stevens (Northern Lehigh), Colin Hedash (Northern Lehigh), Garth Lakitsky (Tamaqua); 3rd place: Anthony Farole (Lehighton), Dylan Hofmann (Northern Lehigh), Mike Balliet (Lehighton); 4th place: Ty Herzog (Northern Lehigh), Kolby Mashack (Tamaqua), Mike Weaver (Panther Valley); 5th place: Jacob Hoats (Lehighton), Bobby Clymer (Northwestern), Kyle Sorensen (Northwestern); 6th place: Kane Kralik (Palmerton).

Returning champions - 2009-2010: Randy Cruz, Bethlehem Catholic; Zane Heller, Northern Lehigh; Mikey Racciato, Pen Argyl; John Lynch, Saucon Valley; Kyle Dehaut, Bethlehem Catholic; Jonathan Blank, Notre Dame-Green Pond; Ian Gimbar, Saucon Valley; Ben Ancheff, Williams Valley. 2008-2009: Jamie Welsh, Pen Argyl; Ian Gimbar, Saucon Valley; Ben Ancheff, Williams Valley. 2007-2008: Jamie Welsh, Pen Argyl.

Returning Top 6 Placewinners - 52.

Defending team champion - Saucon Valley.

Did You Know? - Seniors Colin Hedash of Northern Lehigh and Garth Lakitsky of Tamaqua have both been District runners-up for the past two seasons. Lakitsky also placed fifth as a freshman ... Northern Lehigh senior Nikko Stevens was a District silver medalist last year after placing third as a freshman and sophomore ... Tamaqua senior Kolby Mashack has placed fourth at Districts in each of his three previous appearances.

Class AAA Tournament

Schedule - Friday, Feb. 25: (at Liberty High School) Pigtails/Preliminary Round 4 p.m.; Quarterfinals, 7 p.m.; First Round Consolations, 9 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 26: (at Liberty High School) Second Round Consolations, 9 a.m.; Semifinals/Third Round Consolations, 10:30 a.m.; Fourth Round Consolations, 1:30 p.m.; Seventh Place Consolations, 2:30 p.m.; Third/Fifth Place Consolations, 5 p.m., Finals, 7:15 p.m.

TIMES NEWS area team participating - Pleasant Valley

Other teams - Allen, Bangor, Blue Mountain, Dieruff, Easton, East Stroudsburg North, East Stroudsburg South, Emmaus, Freedom, Liberty, Nazareth, Northampton, Parkland, Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, Pottsville, Southern Lehigh, Stroudsburg, Whitehall.

Advancement - Top six placewinners in eah weight class advance to Regionals.

Regional Tournament - Northeast Class AAA Regional (Districts 2, 4 and 11) at Freedom High School, March 4-5.

Returning TN Area Placewinners - 6th place: Sean Bianco, Ernie Klingel, Alex Yanovich, all of Pleasant Valley; 7th place, Michael Dahlstrom, Pleasant Valley.

Returning champions - 2009-2010: Anthony Cabrera, Liberty; Corey Keener, Blue Mountain; Zach Horan, Nazareth; Mitch Minotti, Easton; Joey Rizzolino, Easton; Michael Ottinger, Parkland; Tarik Haddad, Parkland. 2008-2009: Corey Keener, Blue Mountain; Zach Horan, Nazareth. 2007-08: Zach Horan, Nazareth.

Returning Top 6 Placewinners - 44.

Defending team champion - Parkland.

Did You Know? - Easton has crowned at least one District champion in each year of the tournament's existence. This will be the 63rd year for the D-11 tournament.