Varsity Kansas

Wrestling coaches like change to 6A, 5A regionals

Goddard's Will Spexarth, left, wrestles Bonner Springs’ Tanner Hitchcock at last year’s Class 5A tournament at Hartman Arena.
Goddard's Will Spexarth, left, wrestles Bonner Springs’ Tanner Hitchcock at last year’s Class 5A tournament at Hartman Arena. Correspondent

Northwest wrestling coach Eric Prichard called it a dress rehearsal for the state tournament.

Derby’s Bill Ross and Bishop Carroll’s J.D. Johnson said it resembles a mini state tournament.

Whatever the description, this weekend’s regionals in Classes 6A and 5A will be vastly different.

Both classes will have two regionals of 16 teams each, rather than four regionals of eight teams.

“We’ve been trying to get this change for 10 years,” Prichard said. “This is the toughest regional in 6A since the 1990s, when I was wrestling.

“We’ve been fighting for this.”

Schools in both classes have been assigned to a regional site in either the eastern part of the state or the western part. Wichita-area schools will be competing in the west regionals at Hutchinson (6A) and Goddard (5A).

Classes 4A and 3-2-1A will stay with four regionals, because those classes have more schools.

“I like it,” said Brett Means of two-time defending 5A champion Goddard. “In an eight-(team) regional, you might have six top wrestlers but only four would get in (to state). Under this, the two best in a regional won’t meet up (at state) until the finals.”

The new system will favor the better wrestlers, Means said.

“Unless something crazy happens, or someone lays an egg, you’ll have the best wrestlers (going to state),” he said.

Means said the new system makes financial sense as well.

“It’s hard to get schools to run a one-day or a two-day tournament to break even,” he said. “You can’t make any money (staging it).”

Goddard’s regional features six of the top 10 teams in the 5A rankings. The 6A Hutchinson regional boasts seven teams in the top 10.

This is just fine with Valley Center coach Tate Lowe.

“We’re always looking to wrestle tough competition,” he said. “With the best eight from the regional (qualifying), it sets us up well for state.”

Tim Dryden, coach of City League champion Kapaun Mount Carmel, said the new format promotes tighter competition.

“Barring an upset, you’ll have the two best wrestlers on opposite sides of the (state) bracket,” he said. “It’s best for the kids and best for the tournament.”

And what about that competition at Goddard, which includes ranked teams Valley Center, Arkansas City, Newton and Andover, in addition to No. 10 Kapaun and the host Lions?

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Dryden said. “When you come out of there, you’ll know you’ve earned it.”

Previously, Northwest’s Prichard said, good wrestlers might not qualify, yet others from a weaker regional – including some with a losing record – would qualify.

South’s Brian Westhoff said the regionals are still tough, but the change is more equitable.

“Before, we were hands-down the toughest (eight-team) regional,” said Westhoff, whose Titans are No. 7 in 6A. “It’s still tough, but it does open up some spots for more wrestlers.

“We’d like to get at least as many (qualifying for state) as we did last year, if not one or two more.”

Many coaches endorse the new format, but Derby’s Ross is skeptical about the disproportionate number of ranked teams in the west. Ross’ Panthers are fourth, just behind Olathe North, the highest-ranked eastern team. The top two in 6A, Garden City and Manhattan, are in the west as well.

“As we get deeper in the season, the tough kids get tougher, the weaker kids get weaker,” Ross said. “And the good kids, they thrive on it.

“Our kids are prepared for it. If we get guys through, they’ll place.”