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Change coming to state wrestling tournament

The PIAA made one change to the state wrestling tournament, and held off from making another one.

Starting this winter, the PIAA will rank regional champions who qualify for the state tournament to ensure that the top-ranked wrestlers will not face off earlier than the state finals. There had been multiple cases in recent years of previous state champions meeting in the semifinals.

Regional champions will now be ranked using a combination of their winning percentage during that season and "prestige points" based on their finish at the state tournament the previous year, said PIAA Chief Operating Officer Mark Byers, who is one of the tournament's directors. The rankings apply only to regional champions, and will not be carried through to other qualifiers.

"The additional qualifiers will be placed in the bracket based on where the regional champions are located, so we still keep in place that a regional runner-up would not meet the (same region’s) champion until a final,” Byers said. “It’s something that will begin in '17, then the steering committee will be asked to review the successes and any perceived pitfalls through the adoption. Changes can always be made moving forward, but we think this is a positive first step.”

One of the most memorable cases of top-ranked regional champions facing each other too early in the tournament directly affected one of South Western's wrestlers last season. Greater Latrobe's Luke Pletcher and Nazareth's Sammy Sasso, who were both nationally ranked 138-pounders, faced off in the state quarterfinals. Pletcher won, dropping Sasso down to the consolation bracket to face Mustangs senior Owen Wherley in an elimination bout that would send the winner to the state medal podium.

Sasso beat Wherley by technical fall, leaving the District 3 champion without a medal. Had the bracket been drawn with Sasso and Pletcher on opposite sides, Wherley may have ended up on the podium.

“It makes sense, but then again you’re gonna have both sides of the argument," South Western coach Nate Murren said of the change. "From past experience, obviously that would’ve probably benefited us. But maybe in the future it won’t, you never know. You just take what’s going on and move forward.”

The other change the PIAA considered, but did not accept, was returning to 16-wrestler brackets for each weight class. The tournament expanded to include 20 wrestlers in each bracket in 2014, creating an extra preliminary round and an extra consolation round.

“It’s a lot of extra wrestling, and it’s brought about a lot of extra consolation wrestling," Byers said. "There has not been a great deal of success from those wrestlers that have qualified that previously would have been eliminated the previous weekend in regionals.”

In the last two years, only five wrestlers who lost their preliminary round matches have come back to medal. That's slightly more than two percent, Byers said.

Central York graduate Dylan Chatterton has the highest medal finish of those five. Last March, he battled back from a preliminary round loss to place third in Class AAA at 145 pounds.

“When you look at the total number of additional wrestlers that qualified and put that into perspective that only five ended up medaling, we’re not certain that we’re advancing kids that have the opportunity to medal," Byers said. "There are examples of it, but it’s certainly not the majority.”

Some have also expressed concerns that adding four more wrestlers in each weight class -- a total of 112 wrestlers across both classes -- takes away from the prestige of the event. But that sentiment is not shared by everyone.

“I definitely like the extra guy," New Oxford coach Brian Martin said. "It takes some prestige away from making states, but the way I see it, wrestling is a lot more competitive than what it was years ago. It might be a little easier to get to states (with 20-man brackets), but the competition is a lot harder.”

The board ultimately decided to stay at 20 during Thursday's PIAA board of directors meeting.