Snow caused the cancellation of the regional wrestling tournaments, giving the WIAA a chance to see what a larger Mat Classic would look like.
TACOMA — Kirk Hyatt has been the Issaquah High School wrestling coach for 25 years.
Never has he seen the state wrestling tournament so chaotic as last week’s winter blast scrapped regional events and turned state into 32-person brackets instead of the traditional 16.
Hyatt will wait until the event is over to give a thumbs up or down to a 32-person competition, which many coaches have been pushing for several years, but his initial assessment is that “it’s a watered-down version” after the first day of Mat Classic XXXI in the Tacoma Dome on Friday.
More wrestlers get to put the label “state participant” on their resume, but for some seeded near the bottom, it’s been a short and less memorable experience.
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“It’s a learning process, and we’re all good with it,” said Hyatt, who thought he’d have five state qualifiers but now has 15. “It’s rearing its head with the amount of people (in the Dome); disorganization’s a little bit tough.
“Things changed a lot. The regionals help weed out (lesser wrestlers) and makes the tournament not so watered down. Right now, it’s so watered down it’s so hard to judge on how do you prep for this now when you have such a gap in competition.”
The morning session featured the 3A, 2A and 2B/1B classifications, starting at 8:30 a.m. The afternoon session, set to start at 2 p.m. but actually got underway at 2:55 p.m., was for 4A, 1A and girls classes. More wrestlers meant for a longer day and will mean the same Saturday.
Is there a chance this format will stay?
“I know Mike (Colbrese, Washington Interscholastic Activities Association executive director) and our Executive Board are always open for input,” said Brian Smith, an assistant executive director at the WIAA and tournament director of Mat Classic. “They’ll have a look at it and weigh it out. Because we’ve done it now, we know what it looks like. Right now, I feel we’re ready to go right back to the regional concept, because that’s what we used to do.”
Lake Stevens coach Brent Barnes is in favor of 32-person brackets because it gives more wrestlers a taste of state.
“There was a push anyway to get to 32, and it makes sense,” Barnes said. “It’s a good trial, and it’s probably where we are heading anyway. You get to bring a few more kids to this environment, and that’s pretty special.
“In that way, it’s good. We’ll have to see how we work out the kinks with time and all that. Once you step inside the lines, the wrestling’s still the same. It’s still going to come down to quality and what program has the quality wrestlers.”
Casting a dissenting vote for the format would be Tahoma coach Chris Feist, citing the imbalance from top to bottom talent-wise in some brackets.
“Considering the weather and what happened, it was the right move for this year,” Feist said. “But I’m steadfast against it moving forward. There’s something to be said for winning a regional championship and using that criteria to seed the tournament.
“I think that’s worked well for years, and I’d like to see that continue to happen.”
For Hyatt the shock value of going straight from league tournaments to state is overwhelming.
“Instead, they come straight to this building and it’s eye-opening big time, like a deer in the headlights,” he said. “It’s a shell-shocking moment.”
- South Kitsap sophomore Xavier Eaglin, who won 106 in 4A last season, was knocked out of title contention at 126 in with a second-loss to Moses Lake sophomore Maximus Zamora. Eaglin, ranked No. 4 at 126, lost to 10th-ranked Zamora 7-2.
- Nathan Hale senior Dominic Damon (46-1) added a pair of decisive pins to open the first two rounds of 145 pounds in 3A. His second-round pin in nine seconds was one of fastest on Day 1.
- Kent-Meridian sophomore Ofa He Lotu Tuifua, who won the girls 190-pound class at state last season, advanced to the quarterfinals with two pins. Lake Stevens junior Kiley Hubby, a junior who transferred from Glacier Peak last fall after winning the 145-pound girls class at state for the Grizzlies, moved into the quarterfinals with a pair of wins.