Wrestlers grapple with sectional tournament format - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Wrestlers grapple with sectional tournament format

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Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2012 4:57 pm | Updated: 5:12 pm, Thu Feb 2, 2012.

Coaches always want more.

Regardless of how well a team or individual does there is always something to critique. It is how an athlete gets better - building on one performance to the next.

It is the same type of approach a lot of wrestling coaches are taking toward the Arizona Interscholastic Association's setup for the postseason.

Compared to four seasons ago, when every wrestler qualified for the big-school state tournament, the wrestling coaches are ecstatic.

But it doesn't mean they are happy with the execution.

"I am negative on the situation, but it is better than what it was," Red Mountain coach Dave DiDomenico said. "If it is based on geography, then someone flunked geography. If they wanted to cut travel costs, then someone flunked math.

"To me neither is being accomplished and if it is, it hasn't trickled down to the coaches."

The hubbub comes from the changing fields at the sectional tournaments in the four divisions.

The competitive balance in Division I is a concern where almost all of the state contenders are piled into two of the sections while Cibola, a top- eight program annually, meets little resistance in its section.

While re-seeding happens at the state tournament, the Raiders could qualify their whole team (14 individuals) through to the state tournaments in Prescott next weekend. The other state contenders will battle each other and have some kids struggle to finish sixth - which is a possible wild-card into state meet - even though they could very well be a top three contender at the other sectional.

"Part of our sport is lining up against someone else and see who is the better guy," Desert Vista coach David Gonzalez. "It is what it is. It is the world we live in right now and it is what we are going to wrestle with."

Gonzalez said a possible solution could be using one similar to Colorado, where sections change each year based on a point system for returning state-tournament placers.

"There are ways they could have fixed it and made it more equitable," he said. "It would break up the power teams."

According to the AIA tournament coordinator Dean Visser, last year was a "pilot" year for individual sports and the sections were built in-house. In that case, the Yuma schools were in the Desert Vista sectional, which Cibola won.

The pilot year allowed for some tweaking.

Beginning with this school year, the individual sports joined the team sports in the two-year block format and sections were built on the basis of a “geo-mapping” type of system to cut on travel costs.

And yet, most of the Mesa schools, except the one (Dobson) closest to Ahwatukee Foothills, are not competing in the Skyline sectional but the one hosted at Desert Vista.

The concerns at the lower divisions – Division III and Division IV – is the fact that sectional fields are so different in the number of participating teams and yet the same number of qualifiers advance to the state tournament.

In Division III, Section II at Winslow there are 13 teams competing for five spots. Both Section II at Tucson Sabino (including four Southeast Valley teams), and Section III at Phoenix Greenway (which has three SEV teams) have 17 teams in the respective fields.

Division IV is similar in that Section II at Benson has only 12 teams, while Section I at Wickenburg has 15, including SE Valley squads, and Section III at Holbrook has 17 teams.

Coaches can be control freaks so it is no wonder that there is some dissatisfaction, but when it comes to the actual athletes, they just want to wrestle.

In the back of their minds, they know if they want to reach their goal they are going to have to beat a quality wrestler regardless of what teams are in which sectional.

With his credentials, Desert Vista junior Alex Bambic is not worried about wrestling sectionals.

As a returning state champion who represented his country and came home with gold from the Pan-Am Games, placing, if not winning, at sectionals should be a breeze.

The 195-pounder will go about his business, pick up his medal and prepare for the state tournament the following week.

“I’m training just as I always have and doing everything I can to reach my goals,” he said. “None of that changes because I am a state champion. I still have to work for everything I want.”

The new setup in Division I may not affect an elite competitor like Bambic but it will definitely hamper the prospects of a second-tier wrestler getting through and that is where a lot of teams get their team points that lead to a state title.

“Will it matter in the team race? Of course,” DiDomenico said, referring to the fact the 16th wrestler for each state bracket comes from the sixth placer finisher at each sectional with the best winning percentage. “I’d be willing to bet that the sixth-place wrestlers (in Section II and Section III) are much better wrestlers than those in Section I, but the records might not show it because they have an easier schedule. That other kid (from Section I) probably goes 0-2 while another team could have used those team points even it is just a win or two.

“It will leave someone out unfairly.”

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