MISSOULA – When wrestlers step on the mat for divisional competition on Friday afternoon, things will look a little different than last year.
Not only will the boys be grappling for the right to go to the state meet, the girls will be doing the same as they debut their own divisional meet.
With a rapidly growing number of girls coming out for wrestling, the Montana High School Association decided in March of last year the state meet needs to have a cap. Burgeoning participation meant steadily larger state championship brackets; unsustainable for the expansion of the sport.
Now, there will be some structure in place as part of the MHSA’s long-term formula for making boys and girls wrestling parallel as the latter’s numbers continue to increase.
“It’s just the next step,” Scott Wilson, MHSA Associate Director, said of the girls divisional meet. “The first two years (of girls wrestling), we just had everybody qualifying for state and what it did was create a situation where we had brackets that were very large. So by qualifying now, it makes it closer to what the rest of the entire state is doing for wrestling.”
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On Friday, history will be made when the first batch of high school girls punch their tickets to Billings.
For others, seasons will end shorter than they have in the past. But it’s this format that will do the most for the sport.
“Our girls are very competitive and I don’t think it would mean quite as much to them if they just got to go,” said Dave Morrison, Missoula Big Sky coach. “That’s kind of just like a participation award or something, you know?”
As the MHSA starts to transition the girls version of the sport to match the guys, there will be some distinctions the first time around.
The traditional boys divisional set up is made up of three different classifications — AA, A and B/C — with eight competitors from the west and east of each division qualifying for state. This means a 16-wrestler bracket on the quest to the gold medal.
For the girls, the state bracket will be composed of 24 grapplers. Two girls from each weight class are guaranteed to qualify from each divisional, and the rest of the spots will be filled according to how many girls were competing at each divisional in a certain weight class.
With some areas having more girl wrestlers than others, going by division wouldn’t be suitable — yet. Instead, Wilson said the MHSA will use what they call the “equitable distribution of qualifiers.”
Teams will be informed on Friday morning of which weight class at which divisional can expect to have extra qualifiers.
“I think it’s been received very well,” Wilson said of this next stage of girls wrestling. “Having them (girls) in the same divisional with their boys team … it allows them to be together, both the fans and the athletes. And then for the schools, the coaches that are coaching both their boys and girls teams … it would cause problems for teams going to different places.”
The mass wrestling gatherings across the state Friday will be convenient for all, with maybe the largest beneficiary being girls wrestling itself.
It’ll assure that girls wrestling carries on in progressing — without a plateau in sight — toward the same structure as the boys. Once all the pockets of the state with less competitors are filled, the sooner girls wrestling will be equipped to match boys.
“The more spectators, the more fans that you actually get there, watching these girls and the athletes they are, I just think it’s great,” Morrison said. “I think it’ll really help the girls sport.”
Lucas Semb is the Griz football beat writer for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Semb or email him at email@example.com.