Prep Wrestling

Sowing seeds: Iowa high school wrestling coaches react to seeded state brackets

Some mixed emotions but most responses are favorable

The Class 1A quarterfinal round of the 2014 Iowa High School Wrestling Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, February 21, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Class 1A quarterfinal round of the 2014 Iowa High School Wrestling Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, February 21, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The IHSAA state wrestling tournament is Iowa’s marquee prep event.

The random draw that determined pairings and paths to the top of the awards stand created great anticipation after district competition. The process will be altered next season.

The IHSAA announced Monday that it will begin seeding the top eight wrestlers in each weight division of each class, beginning with the 2019 state wrestling tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Trackwrestling results will be used for seeding with oversight by the IHSAA, distinguishing the top eight competitors and drawing the final eight into the 16-wrestler bracket.

Coaches’ reactions have been mixed, but most seem supportive of separating the top individuals.

“I think it’s great, especially with the technology available,” Cedar Rapids Kennedy Coach Dennis Hynek said. “Almost every tournament we have is seeded that way.

“Nothing is ever going to be perfect. At least you’re separating the big guns.”

Some looked forward to the early-round clashes that highlight the first two rounds, including bouts with highly-ranked individuals. A few of those matches were No. 1 vs. No. 2, depending on the predetermined formula and district results.

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“I think it’s good in the sense the top three to four guys are split up,” Independence Coach Michael Doyle said. “The finals should be between the top two guys.

“At the same time, I liked the randomness of it. You had some really good early-round matches. I can see why we’re going to seeding (but) I liked seeing those early-round battles.”

Seeding eight wrestlers could still produce some exciting matches between title contenders before the semifinals.

“In all honesty, I’m for it because if they follow the criteria it sets those matches,” Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Kane Thompson said. “You’ll still see the upsets and really good matchups early.”

Consensus in any seeding process is nearly impossible, even for the smallest regular-season tournaments. The IHSAA will use eight criteria to create a point system based on how wrestlers compare to other qualifiers in their bracket. Criteria consists of head-to-head competition, results against common opponents, previous state placements, district titles, returning state qualifiers and winning percentage.

/ The Gazette

“It will make the finals more exciting, potentially,” Hynek said. “There could be more No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the finals. I think it will add more exciting Saturday night.”

Thompson said his coaching staff exchanged messages when the change was announced. Five were in favor of seeding, while two were opposed. Thompson said the initial resistance will wane, like it did for the State Duals change.

“As long as they stay the course and they don’t make drastic changes it will be the norm,” Thompson said. “And, it will be fine.”

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The state tournament was positive in many ways. The model worked for the most part. Doyle said the changes may not be a necessity but wrestling has to continue to advance.

“When you’re at that spot (state), you have to make your own breaks, regardless of your seed and ranking,” Doyle said. “You have to beat good kids to reach the podium.”

Doyle noted the new criteria could cause coaches to protect wrestlers who have earned an advantage head-to-head and in results against common opponents. Coaches could sit wrestlers to avoid risking a possible state seed. Doyle said that would be bad for the sport.

“I don’t want to see that,” Doyle said. “Coaches need to wrestle for criteria. Criteria should reward (season-long) participation.”

Even though winning percentage is the eighth and final criteria, Doyle said he doesn’t think it should be included. With the tough competition in northeast Iowa and bolstered schedules by smaller programs, like Lisbon, teams could benefit from weaker competition in other areas. Inflated records shouldn’t impact the seeds.

“I wish there was a way to reward kids for wrestling a tough schedule,” Doyle said. “I don’t think a loss to a quality opponent should hurt you.”

The same emphasis on head-to-head results and common opponents could cause a change in scheduling philosophies. Teams could travel to different parts of the state, facing tougher competition and opponents outside of their region in order to qualify for possible criteria points for state seeding.

Hynek said he might have to find ways to schedule more top teams outside of Eastern Iowa, like Fort Dodge and Southeast Polk. Prairie doesn’t travel farther west than Ames, but Thompson said that could change if top competitors and programs emerge in Western Iowa.

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“In my point of view, it’s about getting more quality wins,” Thompson said. “Work hard to get more of those to get seeded.

“It would be awesome for a willingness to see different parts of the state.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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