Importance of dual meets is overlooked

It’s the ultimate team event in a sport that’s portrayed as individualistic.

The worst kid on the team can be a hero, and he or she might not even win. Every point counts, every minute has people on the edge of their seats and your favorite team can be down by 20 to 30 points and still come back to win.

A dual meet in wrestling can be as exciting as any football or basketball game, but it’s often an overlooked part of the sport – something that needs to change. While some coaches believe duals are the key to rekindling the magic that used to bring hundreds of fans to high school gymnasiums, other coaches don’t care about the results because they’re focused on grooming specific kids for the “individual” state tournament, which has long been the main focus of high school wrestling in Ohio.

In fact, prior to last year, there wasn’t a postseason for teams. Sure, schools fortunate enough to advance wrestlers to the state level earn points and are ranked accordingly when those individuals win matches at the state tournament, but that’s not a true measure of the best dual-meet team. There is strategy and other factors that are overlooked when teams are gauged simply by their success at a tournament.

Furthermore, the lack of a team tournament, which was finally instituted in Ohio last year, also made duals seem less important in the eyes of coaches and wrestlers. The team tournament starts off just like any other postseason, with teams being seeded and then advancing to the next round after each win. The tournament and crowning of a true “team” champion is important, but that’s not why I believe duals are so important to the sport. It’s the excitement and team-first mindset duals provide that can help revitalize the sport.

Understanding the strategy and scoring of a dual meet is a bit complex to someone who has never been part of the sport, but it’s not rocket science. The dumb-downed version (no offense) is: The more points you beat your opponent by, the more points your team earns. For instance, if a wrestler wins a match by one to seven points, his team earns three points. Winning by eight to 14 equals four team points, and anything above 14 is known as a technical fall (kind of like a mercy rule) and earns your team five points. Securing a pin, which is worth six team points, is crucial to winning a dual meet, and, conversely, not getting pinned is equally important.

If a wrestler can avoid being pinned, he keeps the other team from attaining more points. That may sound simple, but fighting to keep oneself from being pinned is one of the hardest things to do for a wrestler. I personally think it’s one of the most difficult things to do in any sport, and I played almost all of them at some point (I’m not bragging – I was mediocre at most of them). But ask anyone who has ever been on their back in the third period of a wrestling match. It takes guts to keep one shoulder blade up when someone is literally trying to squeeze the life out of you. The easy way out of just giving up is so simple and quick. The hard way takes heart.

That’s why I said the worst kid on the team can win you a dual without even winning his specific match. If he avoids being pinned against a kid who’s considerably better than him, he did his job, and everyone knows how hard he had to fight to do it. Those points he saved could be the difference in a close match, but more importantly, his effort earns the respect of everyone on the team.

The fight to not get pinned is a key element, but the excitement of a dual comes from momentum swings, which happen without a moment’s notice. One team might have a strong group of lightweights, while the opposing team possesses elite heavyweights. If a team is able to win a match in a weight class it didn’t expect to, it’s known as a “swing” match because it changes the scoring – as well as the momentum.

It’s not odd for a team down by 25 or 30 points to rattle off five or six straight victories, which means the match will come down to the final few bouts. That’s when the intensity reaches its peak, like a football team driving for a game-winning touchdown.

I’m not naive enough to think wrestling will ever reach the levels of football or basketball, but there is the potential for the sport to grow, partially through dual meets. It’s up to the coaches to promote their matches and start focusing on another aspect of the sport.