Busier weeks, more times meeting weight and lineups that might be more unpredictable than in recent memory are among the challenges facing area high school wrestling teams as the inaugural state team tournament approaches.
But coaches and wrestlers alike hope the team-oriented approach, as opposed to the traditional individual postseason tournaments, gains traction with competitors and fans and sustains the often popular dual-meet format.
"I like it," Pickerington North coach Brad Harris said. "It gives us extra mat time. Dual meets are good for fans. They're spectator-friendly and they're good for team camaraderie. Ultimately, we still gear up for the individual tournaments. That's the ultimate goal. But this is a little extra thing to add, a little extra excitement for the kids."
The tournament begins Wednesday, Jan. 23, with regional quarterfinals. Brackets, including sites, were scheduled to be released by the OHSAA on Jan. 14.
The OHSAA board of directors approved taking control of the dual-meet tournament in June 2010, making wrestling the first sport in which the OHSAA will conduct two tournaments. The dual-meet tournament had been sponsored and conducted by the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association since 1994.
Regional semifinals take place Jan. 30 and the regional finals will be Feb. 6, leading into the state tournament Feb. 9 at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
The individual state tournament will be held Feb. 28-March 2 at Ohio State's Value City Arena.
Schools must fill a minimum of eight weight classes to be eligible for the team tournament.
"By sponsoring a true team tournament we anticipate more youngsters participating in the future," OHSAA assistant commissioner Henry Zaborniak Jr. wrote in a December 2010 letter to wrestling coaches, athletics directors and assigners.
The state dual-meet tournament ends seven days before the individual postseason tournament begins with the sectional round, but the bulk of it is directly in the middle of most teams' league schedules and many deep-rooted weekend tournaments. That leaves some coaches with new concerns, such as wrestlers meeting weight several times in a short span and possibly having to shuffle lineups.
The OCC did not schedule league competition Jan. 24, the night after the first-round state matches, instead changing the start of league matches from Jan. 10 to Dec. 20.
"The concept is right, but I don't know if I like it," Hilliard Davidson coach Dominic DiSabato said. "If we didn't have the OCC duals and we had a tournament, I think I'd be more in favor for it. We have to wrestle Wednesday night, Thursday night (and) Saturday. It's tough. We shouldn't do all this."
But, he added: "Once we're in it, we're going to try and win."
Even with a potentially tight schedule, Pickerington Central coach Jason Allen didn't think he would shuffle his lineup the further his team advances in the dual-meet tournament.
"I want my boys to wrestle at (their) weight and see who they'll wrestle at sectional, district and state," Allen said. "If guys move up, then I might move my guy up there with them. But intentionally, I would not jumble my lineup around. I see a lot of things that could go wrong with doing that."
Each of the three divisions has been broken down into eight regions, with those regions divided into sub-regions. The area's Division I teams have been assigned to regions 5 and 6, while the smaller schools have been placed in regions 13, 14 and 22, which are split between schools in the Central, Northwest and Southeast districts from Delaware, Franklin, Knox, Licking, Madison, Marion, Morrow, Pickaway, Richland and Ross counties.
The risk of injury during the state dual-meet tournament is a concern for Hartley coach Kevin Petrella, but it isn't enough to overshadow his general optimism.
"We've got one of the best state tournaments in the country. It makes our season a little bit longer and how would you feel if one of your kids gets hurt (in the state dual-meet tournament), but personally I'm excited about it," Petrella said. "Some schools have a hard time with fan support, so it should help with that. It has that basketball kind of feel to it when it comes to tournament time. I'm pumped for it."