One of the longtime staples of the state wrestling tournament had been the random draw.
Brackets were assembled matching random district champions with district runners-up in the opening round and separating district foes on opposite sides.
The process was met mixed reactions. Some liked the early-round matches between highly-ranked opponents. Others preferred to see wrestlers seeded with the best wrestlers pitted against each other in the later rounds.
The system changed two years ago when the Iowa High School Athletic Association began to seed the top eight in each weight class. During the Board of Control meeting in April, the IHSAA unanimously approved to seed all 16 qualifiers, starting in 2021.
Linn-Mar Coach Doug Streicher said it was one of the best changes made recently.
“I think it makes a lot of sense,” Streicher said. “It’s awesome. It’s all about giving the kids appropriate chance they earned based on their season, no matter what seed they are.”
The random draw produced excitement in the first two rounds. Stacked districts or upsets in qualifying would impact the pairings, creating marquee matches before the semifinals. West Delaware Coach Jeff Voss subscribed to the idea that it made the opening days special.
“I was one of those people,” Voss said. “I thought that added excitement to the state tournament. Personally, even with the seeding, I think you’re still going to have upsets. At that point, seeding won’t make a difference. They’re wrestling the best kids in the state anyway.”
IHSAA Director of Officials and Wrestling Administrator Lewie Curtis said he heard from coaches and visited with the advisory committee. He decided there was plenty of interest to move ahead and it was possible.
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“We spent two years looking at it,” Curtis said. “I think the seeding process was pretty accurate. From my side of it, I see every bracket and No. 9 or No. 10 seed that doesn’t get to be seeded. They just get into the random and draw the top seeds right off the bat. As an old coach, I’m like ‘that’s harsh.’”
Curtis said his biggest worry is keeping district opponents apart, but that won’t be certain with the procedure.
Technology has allowed for new procedures. Season results and wrestlers’ records are readily available on trackwrestling.com. The criteria is based on a points system that considers head-to-head competition, results against common opponents, past season accomplishments and current season win percentage. The IHSAA also decided to reduce the value of common opponents from two points to one.
“With the amount of information out that’s already out there, it’s easier,” Voss said. “Sometimes there might be very little difference between the ninth and 10th seeded kids and the eighth seed. Instead of a ninth seed getting the No. 1 guy first round, they will have a more competitive first-round match.”
Before state seeding, sometimes brackets were unbalanced. The majority of the top wrestlers at the weight occasionally ended up on the same side of the bracket, forcing them to take each other out and leading to less competitive bouts for the finals.
Now, the goal is spread out the talent and for the podium to represent the top eight performers.
“I like it but it’s hard to say until you go through it,” Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Kane Thompson said. “It’s going to be harder to be that guy that sneaks into a good spot, maybe make a semifinal run and then shuffles to sixth place when really there are some guys who got beat out that are probably better.
“With the top eight seeded, you were seeing it was tougher to get on the awards stand, which it should be. It should be the best guys that get up there.”
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