A sport that's used the same tournament system for 75 years is taking a chance on a new format, and it starts tonight.
The 2013 State Team Wrestling Tournament enters the first phase of the regional matchups at various schools across the state tonight. Wrestling will continue to hold its individual state tournament in March, a tradition of 75 years, but the Ohio High School Athletic Association decided to implement the dual meet tournament this season. In the new format, one team faces another with a chance to move on to the state tournament - similar to Ohio's basketball or football tournament - instead of individuals squaring off and advancing on their own.
Coaches from around the area shared varying opinions on the innovative tournament, but regardless if they liked it or not, almost all local teams are taking part (the state gave teams the option to join). Several schools in the Mahoning Valley have legitimate shots at making runs.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Liberty’s Andrew Mathews, left, and Poland’s David Escaro wrestle in a 138-pound match earlier this season.
Both Howland and Canfield High Schools are hosting the first round. Howland, the top seed in Division II, Region 11, will face the winner of Hoban and Streetsboro today. The Tigers' match begins 20 minutes after Hoban-Streetsboro, which starts at 6 p.m. at Howland High School. A full schedule is available on Page 2C.
Canfield squares off against the winner of Poland and Salem on the Cardinals' home court. Canfield, a No. 3 seed, could have a potential rematch with the Bulldogs, its arch rival. Poland (14-1), a sixth seed, already defeated Salem, No. 11, earlier in the year, but coach Tony Stellato isn't looking beyond the Quakers.
"We wrestled them the first week at our place at the Poland Duals," Stellato said. "They were extremely aggressive and they came after us. I haven't seen them since Week 1, so I haven't heard much about them, but I'm sure they'll be ready for us."
Canfield (14-2) handed Poland its lone loss, but it didn't come easy. The Bulldogs, whose high school program is in its third year of existence, pulled off a few upsets before eventually falling, 42-24. Canfield coach Dean Conley didn't hide his nervousness for the possible rematch.
"They scare the living daylights out of me," he said. "They're 14-1 and we're their only loss. I mean, if you're them, wouldn't you want this scenario? So, we know we're in for a battle if we see them. Our kids know to be ready. We talked to them about that."
The possible rematch would begin 20 minutes after Poland-Salem, which starts at 6 p.m. at Canfield High School.
Canfield, which defeated Howland on Jan. 12 to claim the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League, Division I title, wouldn't see the Tigers (6-2) until the regional finals, which take place Feb. 6 at a site to be determined.
Howland coach Bill Beasom was unavailable for comment.
Girard, Jackson-Milton and Liberty are all participants in Division III, but the Blue Jays are in Region 20, while Girard and Liberty are in Region 19.
The Indians and Blue Jays received the highest seeds at No. 6. Girard squares off against No. 3-seeded Kirtland at 6 p.m. tonight in Grand Valley, while Jackson-Milton faces Akron Manchester, No. 3, at 6 p.m. at Manchester High School.
Seeds don't mean much to Jackson-Milton coach Dave Tomaino. He didn't mince words when talking about the Blue Jays' chances.
"I'm gonna upset someone (today)," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind I'm going to upset Manchester, and I think we're going to give Rootstown a run for their money - if not beat them."
Rootstown, the No. 2 seed, is ranked eighth in the state in Division II, and they would have to beat Canton Central Catholic to set up a showdown with Jackson-Milton. That match would take place at 6 p.m. on Jan. 30 at a site to be determined.
Coach Jim Cardiero said he doesn't know much about Kirtland, and he said that's just the way he likes it. Some coaches try to bump wrestlers around to set up favorable matchups, but that's not Cardiero's style.
"I don't have a lot of extra guys on my team," he said. "I get my best lineup, I show up and I say here we are, lets see who's better. There's not too many games; just hope that my best is good enough."
Liberty, a No. 8 seed, is the only team in Region 19 with a first-round match. The Leopards face Wickliffe, a team they beat in a dual earlier this year at the Huron Duals team tournament, at 6 p.m. at Cardinal High School. Liberty could potentially square off against Cardinal, the top seed. It's a scenario Leopards coach Hadi A. Hadi is cautiously excited to see transpire.
"With them implementing the team state duals, I hate to compare it to football, but in other sports, you swap films and you can get a good idea as to what they have and who their best athletes are, but if you haven't seen a team (in wrestling), it's tough to matchup," he said. "It's kind of like playing chess. You really don't know anything about the guy across the table from you. I like it though. I think it's going to be exciting."
A matchup with the Huskies would take place 20 minutes after Liberty's dual with Wickliffe.
Austintown Fitch coach Brett Powell was one of the people who helped put the new tournament into action. Powell is the president of the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association, which played a major role in the new system. His Falcons, a fifth seed in Division I, Region IV, take on a Hoover team that he said is vastly talented.
"They're pretty tough top to bottom," he said. "I'll know a lot more about our team after this match.
"We've been pretty good in dual meets this year, but when you get bumped up to face a team from the Federal League, well, you better not bring a knife to a gun fight."
Fitch's match is at 6 p.m. at Perry High School.
Boardman, No. 7, also faces a team from the Federal League in the 10th-seeded Canton McKinley Bulldogs. They square off at 6 p.m. at Lake High School. The winner faces Uniontown Lake, No. 2, 20 minutes after the conclusion of the Boardman-Canton McKinley dual.