The WSAZ Invitational has always been one of the toughest wrestling tournaments in West Virginia.
That will rise up a notch or two this weekend.
The two-day tournament will start Friday at 1 p.m. at the Big Sandy Super Store Arena in Huntington. The event will pick back up Saturday at 10 a.m. through championship semifinal matches and seventh-place matches.
Third- and fifth-place matches will start at 6 p.m., followed by the championship matches at 8:15 p.m.
This year's tournament will see an increase in the number of teams and, thus, the number of wrestlers. Over 1,400 wrestlers will compete.
"It's just a lot thicker and it was thick enough already," Greenbrier West coach Jeremy Tincher said. "It has grown by 20 percent over last year."
The number of teams isn't the story. It's more about how good those teams are.
All three West Virginia team champions from 2019 will be there. Joining Class A champ Greenbrier West will be Parkersburg South (AAA) and Point Pleasant (Class AA).
Point Pleasant defeated Parkersburg South 32-27 Jan. 11 at the Cabell Midland Super Quad.
Throw in superior out-of-state teams like Christiansburg (Va.) and Roselle Park (N.J.) and the weekend presents one of the biggest challenges of the regular season.
"I don't know how it could get much tougher," Independence coach Jeremy Hart said. "As far as the teams that are showing up, this is as tough as I have seen it since I got back into coaching. Any time you have the best triple-A teams, all the best double-A teams and all the best single-A teams and you throw in the tough teams out of Ohio and tough teams out of Virginia ... This is going to be tougher than the state tournament for a lot of weight classes."
The increased number of wrestlers will bump some of the weight classes to a round of 64 instead of 32. To accommodate that, the first round will be single elimination. That is of huge importance in regard to the team race.
"Hopefully you get enough of your kids seeded high so they can get a decent draw in the first round," Tincher said. "If you have a kid who is on the bubble and doesn't get seeded and he gets the 1 seed, then he's done. You might have a kid who could score you eight, nine, 10 points and now he's sitting in the bleachers."
Shady Spring coach Anthony Shrewsberry understands the need for the change, but sees it potentially presenting a problem.
"The changes make sense when you are dealing with those kinds of numbers and the competition level is ideal for the above average wrestlers. However, for your less experienced wrestlers it is less than ideal unless they live within easy commuting distance," Shrewsberry said. "Not counting the entry fees the team pays, the average parent will spend around $300 or more over the two days at the tournament. If the wrestler loses in the first round, those expenses are still there. With the nonrefundable rooms averaging $130 a night plus gas and tolls, the first session ticket fee and food, that parent is spending over $200 for one match. That is hard to justify for a beginning or average wrestler."
With classification not an issue in the WSAZ, a number of strong matchups are possible. That includes a potential championship match at 220 pounds between Class AAA No. 1 Braxton Amos of Parkersburg South and Class AA/A No. 1 Noah Brown of Greenbrier West. They are seeded first and second, respectively.
"This will be a good indicator of where you are and where you need to be focusing," Hart said. "That's why we do this. It's a bracketed tournament just like states, it's a couple of weigh-ins so they get used to that and it's at the same facility as the state tournament so you get that same atmosphere. This will show us what we need to work on and how hard we need to be working on it."
Oak Hill and Woodrow Wilson will also be in Huntington this weekend.
"We're thin anyway, so we've got to have all hands on deck," Tincher said. "There is no margin for error. When you put your foot on the line you better be ready or you'll up in the bleachers eating Dippin' Dots."
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