High school wrestling preview: New weight divisions meet mixed reviews with local coaches

Sunday, December 4, 2011
Jackson's Kodi Byrd is the lone returning state qualifier for the Indians. (Missourian file)

Unfortunately for some schools, the National Federation of State High School Associations did not approve tag teams when it revamped its high school weight divisions.

It might have helped a school like Notre Dame. The third-year program at the Class 2 school has its largest turnout to date with 24 wrestlers, but the good and bad news is that 11 of the wrestlers are freshmen.

The Bulldogs may be stocking up for the future, but the influx of freshmen does little to alleviate the shortage coach Marc Stevener faces at the newly created upper weight category -- unless he can send two out to the mat at a time.

The maximum for the lowest wrestling weight was increased to 106 pounds, and the lower and middle weights have become more spread out (113, 120, 128, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160), which creates a spot for the heavier boys. There now are five divisions at 170 pounds and above (170, 182, 195, 220, 285), instead of four (171, 189, 215, 285).

Stevener did not like the rearrangement when it was approved, and it's done nothing to win over him.

"It's killing us," Stevener said after his team lost a pair of season-opening duals against Dexter and Sikeston last week. "We forfeited two weights."

He didn't have to look too far to find eight points in the 44-36 loss to Dexter.

His squad routinely forfeited at 215 last season, and the problem has become worse. His team forfeited the newly created 195-pound class and the 220 class.

And he doesn't foresee an improvement in the situation.

"I don't have it," Stevener said. "We're going to give up 12 points every single time. That weight change really hurt us. Winning dual meets will be tough for us."

Stevener has an abundance of wrestlers in the 132, 138 and 145 categories, and he's grateful for those. He also has a pair of returning state qualifiers in Trever Foltz and Trenton Gross.

"But with us not having football, you don't get the big, old lanky kids out," Stevener said. "You can see how this is geared more for the larger schools and the schools that have football."

Those schools would include the likes of Class 3 Central and Class 4 Jackson.

Jackson is in a reloading mode in coach Steve Wachter's 18th season. But the Indians, who graduated all but one of their eight state qualifiers from last season, junior Codi Byrd returns -- still were able to fill all the weight classes in a pair of lopsided wins against Carbondale (Ill.) and New Madrid County Central last week.

The Indians were the beneficiary of four forfeits by Carbondale and six by New Madrid.

Wachter hasn't noticed much difference in the realignment. His team is thin on the ends -- 106 and 285 -- but points the blame at the fickle composition of mankind.

"The weight changes are not having that big of an effect on us overall, just filling the two spots," Wachter said. "If they were [103] and heavyweight, if they hadn't of changed, we still wouldn't of had anybody there this year. So they really didn't affect us this year."

Graduation has been a bigger factor than realignment.

"The work ethic is still there," Wachter said. "We're working really hard and we're getting better. It's just that we're a pretty young team and still pretty inexperienced. We've still got a long way to go."

Central coach James Brake said he's grown to like the new weight alignments despite his team dropping both matches in a dual meet with Hillsboro and Poplar Bluff last week.

Brake, in his fifth season at Central, was in favor of keeping the old system last spring, but he already has seen some of the benefits of the change.

"I actually like the change a little bit," he said.

He always was in favor of a three-pound raise in the maximum for the lightest wrestlers, and he's seen one of his own wrestlers reap the benefit.

"I'm a big fan of that because as kids get a little bit older, juniors and seniors, they can't make 103 anymore," Brake said. "I know 106 is only three pounds away, but when you're a smaller guy, that three pounds can make a world of difference."

Central senior Blake Emmons is a prime example of a wrestler benefiting from the change.

Emmons always was on the small end of the 103-pound class, weighing in the neighborhood of 95 pounds and giving up eight or nine pounds to the competition. He hit the weight room over the summer and zoomed past 103.

"He found himself around 115 pounds," Brake said. "It's certainly not the easiest cut getting down to 106, but it certainly will be a lot better than 103 for him."

Brake said having a senior in the lowest division is an ideal scenario.

"That's going to be a huge advantage," Brake said. "They're going to be a lot stronger than a freshman, usually. They have a lot more experience than the freshmen, so he should do quite well this season."

There used to be four weight divisions between 130 and 160 pounds, but that number has been reduced to three between 132 and 160.

Brake's wrestlers are feeling the squeeze.

The one fewer class between the 130 and 160 range has eliminated a spot in an area where the Tigers are the deepest.

"It's so different from year to year," Brake said. "One year you might have three kids at a certain weight class, and then the next year you're struggling to find anybody. Right now, one of our biggest challenges is that we've got five or six of our most experienced kids that all weigh around 150 pounds."

While the 145, 152 and 160 weights have remained the same, the 140-pound class has been dropped to 138, making it harder to reach for Brake's more experienced group.

Senior Austin Martin, a state qualifier at 140 pounds last year, leads the group. He's currently 2-0 at 152 pounds.

"When you take one of those spots away, it makes the kids more competitive to try to earn that spot," Brake said. "I kind of like that aspect of it. You've got to try to find the positive in everything. Whoever does earn those three or four spots, they're going to really have to compete to do it."

The Tigers have been able to fill all 14 spots in their first two matches, with 132 pounds the exception.

Senior Austin Purcell, who is 2-0 at 138 pounds, is expected to fill that spot in a couple of weeks when he becomes certified for the weight.

State regulations only allow for a competitor to lose 1.5 percent of his body weight in one week.

"We'll have a couple of other kids that will be able to make that weight class eventually," Brake said.

The Tigers' lineup is filled all the way to sophomore Darvile Hopkins, who weighs right at the maximum of 285 pounds.

"We've got some talent everywhere," Brake said.

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