The Iowa High School Athletic Association didn’t change the schedule to the State Duals tournament, but it did convey it expects changes in competition.
The message was likely an attempt to curb the number of teams that wrestled lineups absent of individual state qualifiers or dominated by reserves.
The IHSAA distributed emails at the end of last week to regional dual qualifiers that included the expectation that teams will wrestle their varsity wrestlers in regional duals and State Duals competition except due to injury, illness or making strategic move to the lineup. The note added consequences for not meeting expectations could be a change in the specific school’s future participation in the event or a change to the event itself. Regional duals for Class 1A and 2A are Tuesday, Feb. 5 and Wednesday, Feb. 6 for 3A. The State Duals are Wednesday, Feb. 13 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“The message about the expectations that people would wrestle their varsity whenever possible has been in our handbook for 20-plus years probably,” IHSAA Assistant Executive Director Alan Beste said. “Last year when we printed our postseason handbook it got ommitted. It wasn’t put in.”
It was considered a reminder of policy. The threats if teams fail to comply seem ineffective. A team that doesn’t like the State Duals set up and willing to compete at less than full strength probably won’t be persuaded by being ineligible. The State Duals aren’t going anywhere.
“Whatever got sent out won’t change what we do,” Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Blake Williams said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ll cross that bridge when or if we qualify.”
Each Hawks starter wrestled at least one match at last year’s event. Linn-Mar, on the other hand, sat all of its state qualifiers for its three duals. Lions Coach Doug Streicher also is taking a wait-and-see approach, but doesn’t seemed moved by the IHSAA’s note, which seems to try and dictate how coaches handle their teams.
“We talked about it as a staff,” Streicher said. “We’re going to do whatever is right for our kids, and let everything else play out.”
The motives behind the message might have been positive. The IHSAA could be trying to prevent a repeat of the anticlimactic 2012 Class 3A final where Bettendorf blew out West Des Moines Valley, which sat its state qualifiers, for the championship.
“I think they’re trying to make it better, but that’s not going to help,” Williams said about the email. “I think they are trying to solve that problem, but that’s not going to solve that problem.”
Actions against programs that do not meet the participation requirements satisfactorily have not been determined.
“What that consequence might be I don’t know because we haven’t talked about that yet,” Beste said. “That would be something our board will have to decide.”
Streicher said he wants to focus on the upcoming events.
“I really don’t know their intent,” Streicher said. “It’s escalating to the point now where I just want to concentrate on getting my kids ready for districts, regional duals and hopefully we are good enough to make the State Duals and do whatever we need to do.”
Iowa City West Coach Mark Reiland said the note does not change anything for his program, which placed third last year wrestling his state qualifiers at least once during the dual tournament. Southeast Polk Jason Christensen, whose team was top-seeded but wrestled without any state qualifiers last year, told The Gazette earlier in January that this year’s decision is still to be determined.
Streicher will decide based on the opinions surrounding the Lions program and not the IHSAA encouragement.
“My door is open,” Streicher said. “I’m listening to my staff (and) parents in my program. We went with the majority and we didn’t have anybody who didn’t want to do it how we did it last year. … This isn’t just me making the decision it’s the decision we made as a wrestling community at Linn-Mar.”
The email also reference postseason play exists “only at the varsity level for all IHSAA-sponsored sports” and that “excessive forfeits” should be avoided with varsity wrestlers are expected to wrestle at weights they are capable, unless the dual outcome is decided. It contradicts last year’s message that highlighted the positive in more student-athletes getting to experience a state championship event.
Beste said reserves still play a role but cmopared it more to when basketball players come in off the bench when the team outcome is determined or used in a strategic manner.
“It still can be a positive event for those JV kids,” Beste said. “Some of the things that happened last year led people to believe it wasn’t a varsity event, and it is a varsity event.”
It is a contradiction to last year when Beste said it was a positive more wrestlers would have the chance to experience a state championship event.
“I think what is going to happen is coaches are going to make some choices about who they’re going to wrestle and the reality is it’s going to take more than 10 or 14 kids to win a state dual-team championship,” Beste told The Gazette last February. “They’re going to use more wrestlers.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing that more students get the opportunity to wrestle in that state dual-team tournament.”
West Delaware Coach Jeff Voss and his top-ranked Hawks team have accepted the new format and the 2A State Duals title is one of their primary goals. Top-ranked Alburnett is a favorite to win titles in both duals and the individual competition. West Delaware wrestled its starters the entire day, while Alburnett used some reserved after getting bumped to the consolations. Both expect to wrestle their starters, depending on the situation.
Alburnett Coach Kane Thompson said he has inquired about why the IHSAA said this schedule and format is best for the sport. He said he would like a more thorough explanation and then maybe all coaches and the IHSAA will all be on board.
“I agree something needs to be done,” Thompson said. “I’m not sure this was the route to go. You do want fans to come and see the top-level teams wrestle their guys.
“The way they’re doing it is forcing coaches to make those decisions on what’s best for their team. Coaches are always going to do that. They are forcing us to make those decisions.”
Beste said the coaches against the change to the duals are louder than the coaches who support it. He said all parties share the same goals.
“Everybody wants dual team wrestling in Iowa to succeed,” Beste said. “We just have to find the best way for that to happen that is going to be the best for kids, coaches and spectators.”