A new idea in Maine high school wrestling has been met with mixed reviews.

On top of two individual tournaments, this season the Maine Principals’ Association will introduce a dual meet state championship. It’s the latest move for growth for the sport in the state. On top of the traditional individual state championships — which has crowned team champions each year since 1959 — the MPA added an individual girls state championship last season, which involved 60 female wrestlers from 27 different high schools.

Dual meets present a more team-structured approach. Two teams meet in a dual meet, and a wrestler from each team is picked in each of the 14 competitive weight classes. Each win gives their team points throughout the meet, and the team with the most points after the 14 matches wins. The meet provides the same individual challenge a wrestler faces in every match, except the team benefits from the result.

A champion will be named in both Class A and Class B, with a simple eight-team single-elimination bracket — four from the north, four from the south, with one alternate — in each class. An MPA selection committee will be used to select the teams. The championships are scheduled for Feb. 21 — a week after the individual tournament. Class A will be hosted at Skowhegan Area High School, while Class B will be held at Penobscot Valley High School in Howland. Teams do have the option of opting out of the tournament should they choose not to go.

“The big difference with this, is you may have kids at (the dual championships) who might not even (compete) at the state (individual) meet, because they didn’t qualify in their weight class,” Penobscot Valley athletic director Gerald Hutchinson — who is also chairman of the MPA wrestling committee — said. “We’ve been fighting (for) this for quite a few years, and the MPA finally let us try it.”

Hutchinson said team championships will be handed out at both the individual state championships and the dual meet championships.

“This is going to be a really interesting way of determining the true team champion,” Gardiner coach Matt Hanley said. “The way the state meet is set up, it is actually geared toward individuals. It’s just different with a team. Marshwood, two years ago, they won states with seven kids at the state meet. That same team would not be able to win a dual meet state tournament.”

But not every coach is a fan of the new tournament. Nokomis’ Scott Preble said many teams — particularly further north in the state — will have trouble fielding a wrestler in each of the 14 weight classes to truly compete for a dual meet title.

“I don’t like it,” Preble said. “My team isn’t built for that. I don’t have great numbers. I tend to lean more toward the individual part of the tournament.”

Dual meet records will be counted by the selection committee, so now importance will be placed on regular-season meets, which in past seasons provided little to teams other than getting ready for weekend tournaments, or the postseason.

Like Preble, Hanley said Gardiner doesn’t have the numbers currently to compete for a duals title, but appreciates the added importance of the regular season.

“Fifty percent of the teams (in the state) cannot compete in dual meets,” Hanley said. “Right now, Gardiner cannot compete in a dual meet. We have 14 kids. There’s 14 weight classes to start with. We had kids out with injuries, kids out with academics, with SATs (last) Saturday, so we started five freshmen. There’s not much I can do with my team. But when a team like Cony can go up against Mt. Ararat, which will be two of the prominent teams from the area, (regular season duals) are going to be really important.”

Preble said he believes, with teams in the northern half of Maine struggling with numbers, that the dual meet championships are being introduced at the wrong time.

“I think the numbers in the sport are coming up, from what I’ve seen,” Preble said. “We went down at Camden (Hills) the other day, and theoretically the only full team there was Camden…Overall, I think the numbers are up. I think eventually, with the numbers up, it will be a good thing. Right now, it’s basically designed for the southern Maine teams.”

Hutchinson said he actually believes many of the teams that will be selected for the dual meet championships won’t have full rosters for all 14 weight classes.

“I’ll bet you of the eight teams we select to come to the duals, if two have a full team, I’d be surprised,” Hutchinson said. “The numbers (in the state) are up, but I know teams that have four or five kids in one weight class…Very few times you see teams walk into a state meet with (a full roster of) 14 kids.”

Wrestlers have shown an interest in the new tournament, particularly with the prospect of the best programs in the state meeting each other each season.

“I think it’s honestly a good idea,” Skowhegan Senior Robert Davies said. “Because it shows which programs are the best in the state, which programs are the most competitive. Not just that, it will bring all the best programs, the best wrestlers in Class A so people can watch.

“And even if your team doesn’t qualify, it’ll just be something to go and watch. You can see all the top competitors go at it, all the other teams go at it.”

The girls state championship will also remain, after a successful introduction last season. Skowhegan junior Rachel Tuck said thanks to the tournament, female wrestlers have been afforded an opportunity to wrestle in a state tournament that they otherwise may not have had wrestling against boys.

“It’s very equal, and I love it,” Tuck said. “When I first heard about it, I was super excited. This is the time to shine. If you can’t (compete) with boys, you’ll definitely make it with girls.”

The girls state championships are scheduled for Feb. 19 at Windham High School.

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