The addition of a statewide team tournament into the wrestling postseason has drawn mixed reactions from area coaches.
The dual-style tournament begins Wednesday with first-round matchups across Ohio. Teams have been divided into 24 regions (with two subregions within each one), and the competition will be conducted the next three Wednesdays before the regional champions in all three divisions wrestle for a team title Feb. 9 at a site that has not yet been determined by the OHSAA.
This is the first year for the tournament, and the regular state wrestling meet still is scheduled Feb. 28-March 2. It appears two state champions will be crowned in each division: One for winning the state meet, and one for winning the dual tournament.
“I love the dual tournament format,” Amanda-Clearcreek coach Brian Brison said. “It’s really exciting for the sport. Our kids are jumping at the opportunity. I’ve always liked the team concept of the sport.”
Area coaches all seem to like the idea of the event, but they have some concerns they hope will be addressed in the future.
Once teams were split into their subregions, coaches ranked every team except their own to determine seeding. Despite an 11-1 dual record competing against teams in Division I and II, Amanda-Clearcreek managed only the No. 3 seed in its region. Bloom-Carroll, which the Aces have beat twice, received the No. 1 seed despite an 0-8 record.
Brison said his team was ranked low intentionally by another school to prevent that team from having to travel to Amanda, as the top two seeds host first-round matches in each region. That’s the kind of shady practice that can happen when coaches are in charge of seeding teams.
“It’s just frustrating,” Brison said. “We won’t have a home meet. We could have potentially had a No. 1 seed and had three home matches. But no matter what, you still have to wrestle.”
Lancaster coach Jon Spires would be in favor of a larger qualifying competition for teams to get into the state duals. He said not all coaches have seen or know about all the teams in their region.
That’s a sentiment echoed by Fairfield Union coach Mike Miller, who said he did not know much about the other teams in the Falcons’ region when ranking them. The Falcons are in a subregion with Athens, New Lexington, Sheridan, Gallia Academy, Morgan, Warren and Vinton County.
“It’s kind of tough for us because we don’t necessarily see everybody,” Miller said. “We see some of the schools at larger tournaments, but it’s hard to get a feel for how they’ll do in the dual meet setting.”
While the Falcons are not familiar with their possible opponents, Lancaster has a region filled with teams it sees regularly. Five of the eight teams in the Golden Gales’ subregion are Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division teams, including their first-round opponent — Pickerington North.
Lancaster wrestles the Panthers today, then it has to wrestle them again in a week to start the dual tournament. Spires said it’s deflating to see the same teams, but he does not want to be too judgmental of the dual tournament in its first year.
“I think the theory’s great. I think duals for our sport is a good idea,” Spires said. “I just want to get this pilot year out of the way and see what the positives and negatives are.”
The state dual meet matches are Wednesdays, conference matches are Thursdays with weekend tournaments Fridays, Saturdays or both days. That makes it possible for teams to wrestle four consecutive days, which caused some concerns about fatigue.
“That could be a challenge keeping kids healthy,” Brison said. “But I don’t think it will be a problem.”
Teams were given the option to not compete in the tournament. Liberty Union was the lone area team to do that. Coach Brett Bressler could not be reached for comment.
The Aces like their draw, Brison said. They think they have a good chance to win their subregion and potentially win the region to move to a Division III state quarterfinal. The Falcons and Gales are wary of their difficult draws, but hopeful they can win some matches.
With the tournament starting Wednesday, teams have one more element for which to prepare as wrestling inches closer to its postseason.
“I like the idea,” Miller said. “If you want to find out the toughest overall team, that’s how you do it.”