Making it to the state tournament should not be a given, but it has been for wrestlers in 5A Division I and 5A Division II the past four seasons.
During that time, there was no qualifying round before state, no regionals, nothing. Each school could enter one wrestler and each weight class had a 32-person bracket to get through.
This year, the two 5A conferences took steps to make it more difficult for wrestlers to make it to state. They adopted a sectional round in each conference, with the top four wrestlers in each of the four sectionals moving on.
Sounds simple, right?
But just like anytime things get changed around, there were some issues that came up, and the biggest issue was how the sectionals were going to be formed. In other words, what teams were going to be put in each of the sectionals.
The 5A-I sectionals were nicely divided, with the top four seeds from last year’s state team tournament (Corona del Sol, Mesa, Highland and Desert Vista) serving as hosts and the next four seeded teams (Brophy, Mesquite, Mountain View and Basha) being spread out among the four sectional sites. The rest of the teams were spread out in the sectionals, with two sectionals having eight teams and two having seven.
In 5A-II, geography was clearly the biggest factor. In one sectional, there are four of the eight teams from last year’s 5A-II team tournament, No. 1 Sunnyside, No. 3 Ironwood Ridge (the sectional host), No. 4 Cibola and No. 7 Marana Mountain View.
Sunnyside, Ironwood Ridge and Cibola finished second, fifth and sixth, respectively, this season at the Flowing Wells Invitational, arguably the biggest regular season meet of the year.
“The west side schools were crying about having to travel,” Marcos de Niza coach Jim Weed said. “5A-I was done right with the top 8 teams from last year. Everyone is upset that the AIA didn’t follow the format they said they were going to use. Maybe next year they’ll get it right.”
Marcos de Niza is one of the other hosts in 5A-II, along with Deer Valley and Ironwood.
One team that could complain about the sectional format is Perry, which is the lone team from the Valley that has to go out of town. Throw in the fact that the Pumas are heading to Tucson for the loaded Ironwood Ridge sectional, and no one would blame coach Darren Johnson if he ranted and raved like a madman.
“I like the fact that it is difficult to get to the state tournament,” Johnson said. “I have no issues, just confusion. It was decided that the sectionals would be seeded based on last year’s finish, but 5A-II is not doing this. Why wouldn’t 5A-II do the same thing as 5A-I?”
“Everything was done geographically, it just appears that it’s different from one conference to the other,” said Dean Visser, who is the wrestling state tournament chairman for the AIA. “If you look at 5A-I, travel is almost irrelevant because the majority of teams are in the East Valley. In 5A-II, you are going from Kingman to Sierra Vista and you also have Yuma in there.”
Visser did say that he’ll get together with the wrestling leadership in 5A-I and 5A-II to review the new format.
“We need to see how sectionals go and then we need to meet and say what worked well and what didn’t,” Visser said. “We’ll see what we can do within reason to continue to make it better.”
LUCKY NUMBER 13
Queen Creek dominated Saturday’s 4A-I Desert Sky Region wrestling tournament at Apache Junction, winning with 242.5 points, well ahead of the host Prospectors’ 166.
Perhaps more impressive than the point total was the number of wrestlers the Bulldogs will have at this week’s state tournament. Queen Creek will have someone in 13 of the 14 weight classes, including six who are top-five seeds thanks to winning their region.
Highland’s spot in the 5A-I semifinals came in great part to the play of its two freshmen, Jaden DeGracie and Ashley Hatch. DeGracie employs a powerful somersault throw-in and it worked to perfection on Saturday in a 1-0 win over Mountain Pointe when DeGracie’s throw in produced the game’s lone goal, which came off a header from Hatch.
“The thing I’ll say about our team is that we’re going to go hard for six minutes, and if we have to, we’ll go seven.”
Tod Workman, Queen Creek wrestling coach
Apache Junction’s Trent McMinn improved his record to 30-2 on Saturday, winning the 132-pound class at the 4A-I Desert Sky Region tournament at Apache Junction.
HOOPS TOURNAMENT TIME
While the regular season wraps up for the teams in 2A through 4A this week, the 1A conference begins its state tournament on Friday. Gilbert Christian’s boys and girls teams advanced to the tournament as well as the Salt River girls.
The Gilbert Christian boys are 28-0 going into tournament and the Salt River girls are 28-4.