The first major change in the Ohio High School Athletic Association state team tournament began as a simple question at the state individual tournament to close last season.
Assistant OHSAA Commissioner Beau Rugg approached Graham coach Jeff Jordan and asked if his squad would be interested in moving up to Division I for the team tournament.
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“He said it could make things more exciting in Ohio wrestling,” Jordan said. “I took a vote with my team and asked them if they wanted to stay Division II or move up to Division I for the challenge to compete for a state title in the big schools.
“It was a unanimous decision to move up for the competition. My boys are really excited for this opportunity.”
Graham will host its first match in Division I, facing the winner of the Wayne-Sidney dual in Region 6 action on Wednesday.
“Any changes to make things more exciting for wrestling fans are good for wrestling,” Jordan said. “I feel that giving schools the option to move up a division is great for the fans as well as the teams that choose to do so. Dual meets are the ultimate fan experience.
“The Graham wrestling fans are some of the most passionate and loyal fans in the country. They would expect us to bump up to Division I to seek out the best competition and to meet the challenge.”
The state also reduced the number of regional sites in the opening round and assigned teams to sites prior to seeding. It was a step toward 2019 when the regionals will be a one-day tournament instead of being contented over back-to-back Wednesdays.
Versailles is one the teams that will host the entire section of a bracket.
The Tigers welcome Allen East, Bluffton, Coldwater, Covington, Delphos Parkway, Spencerville and Delphos St. John’s for the lower half of Region 24.
The Tigers have a strong history in the tournament, advancing to the state semifinals in the first year of the tournament before returning in 2016.
“State duals are huge for our team,” Versailles coach Jerry Bey said. “We actually begin discussion of the duals at our team camp during the summer.
“Our parents and fans have embraced the concept. When you see teams like Milan Edison win the tourney last year, you get excited for your opportunity. Edison used a total team concept to beat a heavily-favored Mechanicsburg team. Every team has a couple of studs but if you can put a quality kid in each weight class, have quality backups that you can move around and get your kids to buy into the team concept, you can make a deep run. One point here or there becomes important in the dual.”
Mechanicsburg was the top seed in Division III last year, something coach Cameron Doggett knows probably won’t be the case if the Indians can navigate Region 24 this year, beginning at home against Triad.
“We are motivated.,” Doggett said. “We are a young team this year and are making adjustments and refining technique to improve overall. We have some talented kids, and are refining some small technical issues to peak towards the end of season. We are focused and gaining each practice.
“This year’s team is very different from last years. We are younger and raw. Many of our guys are freshman and sophomores versus having a bunch of seniors like last year. I am amazed at how well this year’s team has adapted and improved. We make strides every week and as a coach all I can ask for is improvement and trust.”
Miami East will open Region 24 action at Troy Christian against the Southeastern-Greenon winner.
While Miami East coach Mark Rose has always been a fan of the state tournament, he is starting to see his wrestlers to embrace it more.
“It is all about the team. You can have a kid on your team that is not doing very good but saves bonus points, and every kid on the team will be cheering him on,” Rose said. “Remember in team duals you do not have to win every match you just cannot give up bonus points.”
The team aspect is what Butler coach Mark Peck is hoping helps his Aviators advance through Division I, Region 6 beginning as the top seed at Springfield against the host.
“Duals are all about team which is a strength of this group,” said Peck, whose team was Region 7 runners-up last year. “It is always our team goal to win every dual and make the final eight.
“But we are a small fish in a big pond in D-I,” Peck said. “But we love the team aspect. It is important to us. It’s our school against your school in a 14 match battle.”
Guidelines: Teams must fill at least half of the 14 weight classes to be eligible to participate.
Team breakdown: While the top eight advance to the state tournament each year, the names have changed. In all, 61 schools have made an appearance in the state tournament. Division III has had the most parody with 23 schools appearing while Division I has been harder to break through with just 17 different schools advancing. Grahm is the only school to win titles all five years.
Locals in Columbus: The following schools have advanced to the state tournament in the past. Schools are listed with year and result).
Division I: Centerville (2013), Fairfield (2016)
Division II: Graham (champs 2013, 14, 15, 16, 17), Ross (2013, 15, 16, semis 2013), Wilmington (2014).
Division III: Versailles (2013, 16, semis 2013), Blanchester (2013, 14), Dayton Christian (runner-up 2014, runner-up 2015), Mechanicsburg (semis 2015, runner up 2016, semis 2017).