Sussex County Delaware
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State Wrestling Tournament ...

Laurel, Milford in State
Dual Meet Tournament

Photo: Milford head coach Don Parsley and Laurel head coach Tom Pavia

The Laurel and Milford high school wrestling programs have been on a collision course for this ultimate clash all season.

Milford head coach Don ParsleySo even with the postponement of Round II of this rivalry for nearly a week, the intensity of their semifinal matchup in the Delaware Division II state wrestling tournament figures to be every bit as high as it was in Round I two weeks ago.

The memory of Laurel's 33-27 victory over Milford on Wednesday, Feb. 12, remains fresh in everyone's mind for the 5 p.m. rematch in the state semifinals on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2003, at Delaware State University.

That's why a week's worth of snow hasn't dimmed the anticipation for tonight's dual meet between the top-seeded Bulldogs and fourth-seeded Bucs. The winner advances to the 7 p.m. finals against the winner of the other semifinal between No. 2 Smyrna and six-time defending state champion Hodgson, the third seed.

"In the beginning (when the state tournament was postponed from Wednesday, Feb. 19 to Tuesday, Feb. 25), I thought, 'Wow, this is going to be a long haul'. But everyone in the conference and everyone in the state is going to have a long haul because of the snow. We have to be focused to do what we've come here to do, which is to be at our best. That's all we can do, is ask for our best. If we ask for our best and fall short, then so be it. We won't be ashamed of that.

Few of the Bulldogs felt they wrestled their best when they used a pin by 125-pounder Will Saylor in the night's final match to hold Milford off for their first Henlopen Conference Southern Division title back on Feb. 12. In fact, despite their 13-1 record, the Bulldogs don't feel they have put it all together yet.

Pavia has drilled that into them, and drilled into them that if they do wrestle their best, they can come away with the school's first state wrestling championship, even if the field includes Hodgson, which has owned the Division II tournament, and Smyrna, which the Bulldogs beat on criteria after the two squads wrestled to a 27-27 tie back on Jan. 7.

"If we do our best, I really think we'll come out on top," said Pavia. "We can win a dual meet state championship. Any one of those teams can win it, make no mistake about that. Of course, I have a lot of faith and belief in our kids and I think we'll be in there ready to battle."

Milford head coach Don Parsley believes in his Bucs, too. Despite losses to Laurel and Smyrna, the 10-3 Bucs have had their best season since their back-to-back Henlopen South championships in 1999 and 2000.

Milford head coach Don ParsleyThe Bucs appear to be peaking at the right time if their close loss to Laurel and their performance in the Henlopen Conference tournament last weekend are any indication. Milford finished fourth, just 7.5 points behind Laurel, but picked up conference championships from Jimmy Artis at 103 and Josh Abraham at 130.

Milford last appeared in the Division II tournament in 2000. The Bucs finished second to Hodgson that year following a 44-16 loss in the finals. Milford defeated Howard 39-24 in the semifinals.

A repeat of the Feb. 12 dual meet with Laurel would be fine with Parsley, particularly if the ending was a little different.

"Tom Pavia and I are good friends. We go way back," said Parsley. "I told him I want it to come down to the last match because if it does, that means we're in it. They've got a real nice team and I think we've got a nice squad, but I don't think we're going to be ahead by 7 or 8 points going into the last bout. They may be. I don't think we're gonna be, so if it comes down to the last match, that means we're right in the thick of things and we've got a shot to win and that's where I'd like my guys to be."

Pavia, named the conference's coach of the year at the conference tournament last weekend, could do without the tension of such a fierce battle again, but he'd live with it if the results were the same.

"I hope it's not as close of a battle," said Pavia. "But as long as we're on the winning end, if it does come down to that and we're on top, I can handle that. It's probably a good thing my hair is blond now because you'll see like five or six more grays popping in if that's the case, if it goes down to the last match."

Saylor, whose pin of Milford's Thomas Drummond in the final match clinched that victory and Laurel's first division championship in 20 years, looks forward to the rematch.

"I think we can beat them again," said Saylor. "The last time it came down to the last match, but we didn't have our best team performance. I think if we have our best team performance and we're hitting on all cylinders, we should do pretty well."

Smyrna enters the tournament at 13-2, while Blue Hen Conference Flight B champion Hodgson is 9-2. Smyrna has lost to Laurel and beaten Milford. Hodgson, from the Blue Hen Conference, hasn't faced any of the three Henlopen South teams in the tournament, but the Silver Eagles did face a common opponent in a 47-20 loss to Caesar Rodney during the regular season.

Laurel lost to CR 45-15, Milford lost to CR 53-8, and Smyrna lost to the Riders

In the Division I tournament, top-seeded St. Mark's (7-2) faces No. 4 Salesianum (9-4) in one semifinal, while Henlopen Conference champion and No. 2 seed Caesar Rodney (14-0), the only unbeaten team in either field, takes on No. 3 William Penn (9-2) in the other.

Admission is $6.

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