Mat Classic: Expanded format brings challenges

But most of the obstacles encountered on the 1st day were minor ones.

TACOMA — With all the changes that were heaped onto Mat Classic XXXI — some intentional, some forced by weather — it seemed inevitable that certain aspects of the state wrestling tournament would run better than others.

When last week’s snowstorm prompted the cancellation of the regional wrestling tournaments (an unprecedented move that resulted in 32 wrestlers competing in each weight class at state instead of the traditional 16), a mountain of logistical operations were set into motion.

The Washington State Interscholastic Activities Association had one week to prepare to accommodate nearly 2,500 athletes, coaches, support staff and fans in the Tacoma Dome.

This was on top of the previously planned change to split Friday’s first day of action into classification-specific sessions — the 3A, 2A and 1B/2B tournaments in the morning session, and 4A, 1A and girls tournaments in the afternoon.

“I haven’t heard anything negative as far as the logistics of teams getting here or finding a place to stay,” WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese said. “I do know that travel was a bit of a challenge for some, but I have to pay homage to our administrators, our state coaches association, our state officials association and our wrestling community for figuring out how to come together and make this work for the benefit of our kids.”

Kamiakin coach Jordan Anderson and his Braves were one of the programs slowed by travel woes. He said his team traveled over White Pass through Centralia on Wednesday, arriving in Tacoma on Thursday. White River High School in Buckley allowed the Braves to work out in its wrestling room on the way to the state tournament.

Friday morning’s session ran an hour late, delaying the start of the afternoon session. Colbrese said that if the action continued to lag behind, administrators would consider shortening the first period in all matches at the beginning of Saturday’s matches to one minute from two minutes.

Snohomish athletic director Mark Perry, also the 2A tournament director at Mat Classic, said he thought the Tacoma Dome handled what he called the “mesh point” — the overlap of the arriving wrestlers, coaches and fans for the afternoon session with the yet-to-leave morning session folks — pretty well.

“But we needed to have more scales to make weigh-ins run smoother,” Perry said.

Colbrese echoed area coaches in saying that one of the most frequently asked questions he received in planning for the state tournament was regarding seeding.

Although an informal poll of local coaches yielded a feeling of admiration and appreciation for the WIAA for bringing a largely new state tournament together in a week, there were gripes about how the tournaments were seeded.

Cedarcrest teammates Freddy Reid and Preston Goodwin faced each other in the first round Friday morning in a match won by Reid.

“I have to think there should have been some way to avoid that,” Red Wolves coach Mark Ward said.

“We have to remember that the brackets are drawn on an allocation model, which is different than a pure seeding,” Perry said. “In many cases the first round of this tournament was what the first round of the regional tournaments would have been. In that situation, where the district was imbalanced with five schools from one league and three from another, the matchup just happened to be kids from the same school.”

Overall, the first day of this revamped state tournament was a bit of a mixed bag.

But the story of Arlington senior 132-pounder Caleb Abenroth neatly sums up the silver lining in the snow cloud.

Abenroth entered the sub-regional tournament with a varsity record of 0-7. He won his first-round match but lost his second, leaving him a loss away from the end of his wrestling career.

Abenroth wound up winning three consecutive elimination matches to earn the fourth and final seed to the regional tournaments, which were never contested. Instead, he got to end his career with his Eagles teammates in the Tacoma Dome. He lost both of his matches in the morning session and was eliminated, but he got to wrestle in the dome.

“It’s a little bittersweet, because I kind of feel like getting here was handed to me,” Abenroth said. “But the energy in here when you’re wrestling is amazing. My teammates gave me some tips about how all the matches would be tough and I’d really have to grind, but I wasn’t setting the bar too high. I’m just happy to be here. Anything could have happened this weekend and I would have called it a successful season. Anything that can happen here is better than what I was expecting for this season.”

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