Change abounds at state wrestling meet
Evangelís Benny Kirkikis (left) wrestles Bentonís Anthony Stapa during the regional meet. The state meet begins today at the Ponchartrain Center in suburban New Orleans. / Robert Summerlin/Special to The Times
The venue, however, isn't the only bit of newness associated with the tournament, which begins today at the Ponchartrain Center.
In addition to the Saturday-Sunday format, necessitated by the change in location, the tournament is divided along a true one-third principle.
"Every division's got the same number of schools," Bossier coach Bo Shelton said. "They put us in order and divided by three and made it a little more even."
The association used a three-division setup for the tournament before this year, but the divisions were divided along a different line. Division I was limited to Class 5A schools while Division II was comprised of Class 4A institutions. Schools with a Class 3A or below enrollment were combined into the Division III bracket.
The one-third principle has led to the resumption of some rivalries the latest round of reclassification appeared to take away. Instead, Parkway and Haughton, which moved up to Class 5A this year, will have competitors wrestling in Division II.
"We wrestle them all year, so it's no big deal," said Huntington coach Gene Strogen, who was the area's D-II representative at the seeding meeting Monday. "We show up and wrestle whoever's on the bracket."
The Division III bracket is filled with plenty of Bossier wrestlers as the Bearkats look to build off their Bossier City and regional championships and last season's third-place Division II state finish.
The Bearkats are the only local team with two No. 1 seeds, as Koree Venus (120 pounds) and D'Varciea Small (160) sit atop their respective Division III tournaments.
The move to Division III means another change for Bossier, which got a taste of some of D-III' s top teams at the Brusly Tournament earlier this season, including host Brusly and Thomas Jefferson. The Bearkats' position as a team is different as well as their past state-meet success has made them more of a known commodity.
'They like that target," Shelton said. "It gives them a little bit of incentive to prove them wrong on how they feel about teams from north Louisiana."
Bossier hopes to do on the mat what Shreveport-Bossier City did to its perception a year ago when it hosted the meet for the first time and set attendance records at the meet.
Coaches from south Louisiana who were skeptical about the event coming north for the first time were impressed and changed their thinking.
Today, coaches and wrestlers who thought they would be able to sleep at home and shoot down Arthur Ray Teague Parkway or jump across the Jimmie Davis Bridge instead find themselves in suburban New Orleans, preparing for a return to the Ponchartrain Center.
"The state tournament up here was so much better and so much nicer," said Byrd 152-pounder Andrew Martin, who is seeded No. 2 in the Division I bracket.
"It was a better spot to go down on the floor, more people came, all my friends came and watched me. Now, some of the parents can't go, but you have to go take care of business, no matter where it is. The venue shouldn't change your mind-set or your perspective on it."