It is hard to top perfection. That is what Damascus High wrestling coach Dave Hopkins is telling his team this season.

Damascus, which opens its season tonight at Whitman in Bethesda, last season became the first school in Maryland to go undefeated. The Swarmin' Hornets went 18-0 in dual meets and won every tournament, including the prestigious Patriot Classic at Northern High in Owings. Damascus also captured the Montgomery County championship for the sixth straight season and won the Class 4A West Region and 4A/3A dual team titles. The Swarmin' Hornets capped their perfect season by winning the Class 4A/3A tournament at Western Maryland College in Westminster.

"Can we do it again this year? Probably not," said Hopkins, who has eight starters back from last season. "Is it possible? Absolutely. Everything just went the way it was supposed to go [last season]. It was one of those dream seasons where everything went right."

Damascus, which has won three open state titles (1994, '96, '99) and two dual-meet crowns ('95, '99), is led by senior T.J. Salb, who went 32-5 last season at 152 pounds. Seniors Chase York, who went 33-5 at 103, and Steve Suhaka (30-8 at 160) return.

Northern Region Classic The Northern Region Classic Wrestling Tournament will be held Friday and Saturday at Fairfax High. This year's Classic features 32 teams, including No. 5 Old Mill, No. 6 Hayfield and defending Virginia Group AA champion Poquoson.

Annandale, Chantilly, Falls Church, Jefferson, O'Connell, McLean, Paul VI Catholic, Robinson, South Lakes, West Springfield, T.C. Williams, Ireton, Edison, Lake Braddock, Madison, Mount Vernon, Park View, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes, West Potomac, W.T. Woodson, Centreville, Fairfax, Herndon, Washington-Lee, Marshall, Stuart, Yorktown and Wakefield also will compete.

Two-time All-Met Steve Kelecher of Lake Braddock, All-Met Paul Bjorlo of South Lakes and All-Met Reed Carpenter of O'Connell are expected to compete. Other major tournaments scheduled this weekend include the Big M Tournament at Magruder in Rockville, the Annapolis Invitational at Annapolis High, the Chopticon Invitational in Morganza and the Bowie Invitational at Bowie High.

The Big M Tournament is perhaps the most prestigious event in Maryland and will feature eighth-ranked Magruder and ninth-ranked Bullis of Potomac.

DeMatha Finishes Third Led by All-Mets Nick Delonga and Kevin Gabrielson, DeMatha placed third at the Maryland Catholic Invitational Friday and Saturday. The Hyattsville school, which won its fifth straight National Prep title last season, also placed six wrestlers in the championship round and one in the consolation final.

Delonga, who went 39-6 last season at 125, captured the 135-pound title by pinning his opponent in 3 minutes 17 seconds. Gabrielson (45-6 at 135) won the 152-pound title with a 6-3 decision. Senior Flynn Ficker (38-12 at 215) won the heavyweight title with an 8-5 decision. Former DeMatha wrestler and All-Met Joe Sargent of Mount St. Joseph won the 160-pound title.