Change on mat
Change always comes with a breath of contention and wrestling coaches have their opinions on and off the record of the news last week of the newly formatted District 11 AAA and AA team tournaments.
With 12-teams qualifying in both brackets, nobody has an issue with a larger wrestling party to give more teams an opportunity to compete for postseason opportunities.
Where those teams get seeded and "the ultimate qualifier" bout is where there is room for debate.
In years past, a District 11 committee would meet before district duals and seed teams based on an array of factors to put the best teams in the proper positioning for the postseason. With the recent changes of wrestling seeds being predicated off the power point system that the district uses in most sports, Lehigh Valley Conference coaches, primarily in 3A have their own concerns.
With the Mountain Valley Conference looking like a lock to join the LVC after next season, issues of where those teams will be seeded may only last for a year, but in the meantime, LVC coaches are not thrilled at the prospect of having teams from the North, including Blue Mountain, gaining higher quality seeds over their LVC counterparts based off their power point rating.
Northern schools have always come down to district duals with impressive records, but to be honest, very little clout, as the competition they face on a weekly basis doesn't compare to what the schools in the LVC go through.
The committee was able to fix any of those discrepancies in years past with the power rating system, but without them, it appears that all coaches will have to deal with a computer system aligning teams for the tournament.
"I'm sure most LVC teams would like to see our tougher schedule help us in seeding," said Freedom head coach Brandon Hall. "The seeding committee has always balanced that out, but now there won't be a committee to do such things. All that being said, the cream will rise to the top and I do think the two best teams will advance to states."
Advancing to states is the ultimate goal for the top two teams in each classification coming out of the district's two classifications. With the addition of "the ultimate qualifier" bout, teams that mate qualifier" bout, teams that have made the finals now have another incentive outside of district gold and a spot in Hershey and that's called not wrestling in the consolation bout.
As anyone in wrestling knows, battling back in consolation rounds is not where you want to be. It's difficult both mentally and physically and there is very little down time to get over a loss and refocus on the next task at hand. Perhaps it will be easier to do that as a team, but for a program like Parkland, who has lost the last two team titles to Easton, they would then have to gear up literally less than a half hour after losing their finals match and take on the consolation finalist, who is coming off a victory with momentum.
"I think it's always hard to wrestle for a true second," said Northampton head coach Seth Lisa. "All the momentum in the world is going to the team that's coming off a win. They do that format in some individual summer tournaments and you see how difficult it is for the kid that's coming off a loss in the finals. That kid that loses in the finals goes on to lose the next match a lot."
Still, both Lisa and Hall both agreed that the district is trying to do its best to help the sport and make the best decisions to get the top two teams to states.
Teams who have been seeded in the fourth or fifth spot are ultimately paired up with the top-seed in the semifinals, which has particularly been a controversial subject as of late in AA, since that meant a certain loss to Bethlehem Catholic.
Which begs another question. Are some of these changes predicated because of Bethlehem Catholic's success?
Opinions differ on that subject, but it wouldn't be far fetched to understand that Becahi has plenty of schools in AA, primarily Pen Argyl, who have made their voices heard about the prospects of battling the Hawks in the semis.
Dating back to to the district's own historical archives for champions, since 1997, only three teams have won district duals in the AAA format Easton, Northampton and Nazareth.
Since 2000, Easton has won 10 of the last 13 dual titles, including the last four in a row. In that same time span, five teams Wilson, Northern Lehigh, Pen Argyl, Northwestern and Bethlehem Catholic have won AA titles, with Wilson leading the way with five titles, including four in a row at one point.
Hawks head coach Jeff Karam knows his program is always under the spotlight because of their success. He feels the changes will benefit teams in the district, even though he doesn't really worry about them.
"They're trying to get the two best teams to states and that's a good thing," he said. "In AAA, there has been some tough semifinal bouts that made you wonder what would happen if some of those teams were on the other side of the bracket."
Other concerns that come to mind with the new format is the new way coaches are going to have to approach weigh-ins, since the one-pound allowance appears to be scrapped that schools used to have because of consecutive days of wrestling.
Adding more teams to the tournament also is a mixed bag of opinion.
"We won our first bout [of districts] 76-0 last year," said Karam in reference to taking on ninth-seeded Panther Valley. "People then look and say you're trying to run up the score when we're really just preparing for the postseason. I'm not sure how much that match helped either program."
Lastly, attendance figures should rise, as getting fans to attend events at various venues should help the gate, rather than having the entire tournament in Bethlehem.
And if there's one thing we all know about sports, it's that finding ways to increase revenue is always on the agenda.