CAMAS — The high school wrestling community awoke to impactful and unprecedented news about its postseasons scheduling on Friday morning.
Due to an incoming winter storm across the state, the WIAA cancelled all boys and girls regional wrestling tournaments, which were set to take place Saturday.
By Friday afternoon at Camas High School, the 4A boys regional tournament was under way anyway.
Instead of the 16-entry Mat Classic format, this year the field will expand to 32 wrestlers. Instead of the top-4 wrestlers, the top-8 would advance to the Tacoma Dome.
The WIAA’s decision came nearly in lock step with Governor Jay Inslee declaring a state of emergency throughout Washington in anticipation for a snow storm predicted to hit Friday night and dump as much as 6 to 8 inches of snow in parts of the state.
It also came as a reverse course for the WIAA. Less than 24 hours prior, it announced all regional tournaments were still on, and teams that could not travel to their respective tournament sites would forfeit.
Some local coaches and wrestlers saw it as an opportunity.
Advocates for a 32-entry Mat Classic and elimination of the regional tournament allow more wrestlers the opportunity to compete at state and lower travel expenses.
For years, many coaches across the state have advocated for 32-wrestler field at Mat Classic, to no avail.
Detractors could cite logistical issues with putting a state tournament on with double the number of wrestlers, particularly this year with the Tacoma Dome under partial renovation, along with questions as to how the tournament will be seeded.
Union senior Danny Snediker wondered if the weigh-in process, which he said is the most exhaustive of the entire season, would pose even more of an inconvenience on qualified wrestlers.
This year, the weather forced the WIAA’s hand.
“I think a lot of coaches have wanted it for a long time, I guess we’ll see if it goes well, then maybe they will be OK with change,” Camas coach Cory VomBaur said. “There seems to be some stigma potentially around change with the state tournament and change is a necessary bad. Hopefully having a 32-man bracket isn’t a bad thing.”
The WIAA holds a coaches meeting late fall each year leading up to the season, then another in Tacoma around the Mat Classic. At those meetings, particularly in the preseason, coaches are polled and proposals are voted on. In recent years, Heritage coach Erik Gonzalez said, ideas have been voted on by emailed surveys.
Union coach John Godinho said the 32-man format has officially been voted on the last six or so years.
“We voted on it quite a bit, 32-man bracket,” Godinho said. “Me personally, I’ve been doing this 28 years. Change is different. Guess it kind of forced our hand. We have to do it, we’ll see how it goes when we get up there.”
Each time, it’s has not been adopted, despite what multiple local coaches and athletic directors describe as overwhelming support from coaches.
“Logistically, maybe it’s really tough for the WIAA,” Camas athletic director Rory Oster said. “We’re going to find out how they’re going to be able to roll with it.”
Camas junior Colby Stoller, who qualified for Mat Classic last year but did not place, sees the benefits of having more wrestlers qualify, but is not a fan of the new format.
“I like the 16 because it keeps it smaller, more fast-paced,” Stoller said.
But in Southwest Washington, schools from Mid-Columbia Conference (Tri-Cities) and the Greater Spokane League had already made the trip to Camas for the Region IV tournament which, unlike the other regions, includes three leagues instead of two.
Oster called the coaches and district athletic directors from the region. They wanted to still wrestle.
“That was the big feeling, because we’re already here, the most fair thing to kids is wrestle this thing out.
For local wrestlers, what was a day of scrambling for some ADs and coaches was just a normal school day. Skyview freshman Lorenzo Gunn, who placed second at districts, said he heard rumblings all morning that regionals were cancelled, but prepared all day as if he was wrestling. Stoller described it as a normal school day.
But at the end, for the first time in state history, eight wrestlers from each class earned a bid to what will be the largest Mat Classic.
Some local coaches hope to keep it that way.