To say that this week's District 11 team wrestling championships will have a slightly different look might be an understatement.
The annual tournament, which used to have a straightforward, single-elimination format, has received an extreme makeover this season.
Let's take a look at some of the changes:
- The field has been expanded from 10 teams to 12 in both Class AA and AAA.
- The tournament will now have a double-elimination format.
- And last, but certainly not least, the seeding process has been standardized. The district's wrestling committee has applied the power rankings formula used in other sports to seed this year's tournament.
Previously, teams qualified through standardized power rankings but were seeded by a committee made up of league, official and media representatives.
First round and quarterfinal duals in both Class AA and AAA will be this Thursday at two host schools in each class, with the semis and finals scheduled for Saturday at Freedom High School.
The team that is undefeated will earn the District 11's No. 1 berth at states. Those with one loss will continue to wrestle until just one one-loss team is remaining, and that squad will go to states as the No. 2 candidate.
The ultimate goal is to have the two state berths decided on the mat, something coaches are excited about.
"I think the format is set up to get the best two teams out of District 11 and that's what you want representing us at the state level," said Lehighton's Dan Williams, whose team is 10th in the Class AA power rankings. "The seeding process is a very involved process. District XI has made every effort to provide a true reflection of each team's talent level, which isn't an easy task."
The expanded tournament also opens up the door for teams to experience postseason wrestling, which is something most coaches would agree is invaluable.
"Anytime you can give wrestlers that experience, it's a good thing," Williams said. "And it helps those wrestlers get prepared for individual districts at the end of the month."
While the expansion offers experience that is good for the wrestlers, some feel it also provides a boost for the sport in general.
"I think it's good for wrestling, to be honest with you," said Jim Thorpe coach Shawn Albert, who's Olympians are 9th in the Class AA power rankings. "Everybody is trying their hardest to get to the top. To provide the kids with an opportunity with a chance to wrestle some extra matches that don't count toward their competition schedule is great. I think expanding the tournament is a great idea."
And because of the expansion, Palmerton will also qualify for the tournament with an 11th place position in the Class AA power rankings.
"It's always something that we shoot for," Palmerton coach Dave Lavin said of making the tournament. "Even if we qualify 12th, it is what it is. I think it's good to get more participation.
"Hopefully, there will be some parity and I think this year we'll have that. If we're healthy and some other teams are healthy, there could be some swings and matches could go either way. It won't be like 10-to-12 teams are out of it right away."
After qualifying last year, Panther Valley just missed out with a No. 13 spot in the power rankings.
While disappointed, Panthers' coach Tim Robb certainly understands. He was, after all, on the committee that oversaw the changes.
"I think it was a good move," the coach said of the overhaul. 'Why not have it like this? There's always talk that the Schuylkill League isn't as good as the Lehigh Valley Conference, or they (the committee) don't know how to seed them.
"Let the teams in. Let them prove who's better. And that was the theory behind it."
While it remains to be seen if the new format is successful, it certainly has created a buzz and a sense of optimism among area coaches.
PPD…Lehighton's wrestling match scheduled for Monday night against Pocono Mountain West has been rescheduled for Tuesday, February 4th with a 7:00 p.m. start time at the high school gym.
TOURNEY TIME …While Pleasant Valley won't be participating in this week's District Duals, the Bears certainly made the most of their trip to the New Oxford Invitational over the weekend. Kenny Yanovich took second at 120 pounds, Brody Keefe took fifth at 160 and Trent Thomas placed sixth at 182. Pleasant Valley finished seventh out of 28 teams.