Veteran football and wrestling coach Don Heizer, also one of the most respected tournament directors in the state, has been tapped along with Payson High School athletic director Rob Varner to host the first-ever Division III, Section I post-season wrestling tournament.
It is a mammoth undertaking because both will be treading in unknown territory since the event is an inaugural competition.
Early this school year, the Arizona Interscholastic Association did away with the conference-region wrestling configuration that had been in use for decades.
AIA officials replaced it with a division-section alignment that went into effect this school year for all individual sports, like wrestling.
Next year, team sports will compete in the new configuration.
For wrestling, Payson was assigned to Division III, Section I along with 11 other teams.
If the previous region alignment were still in use, the tournament would draw only six teams.
With the sectional field doubled to 12 teams over what a region field would have been, and individual weight class brackets increased to 16 from eight, Varner and Heizer are anticipating a very competitive tournament.
Also, the number of individuals competing increased to 168 from the 84 that competed in the former region format.
Rendering the upcoming Section I mat battles even more intense is the presence of several former Class 4A powers including Flagstaff Coconino, Mohave, Mingus and Page.
Mingus has long been a wrestling powerhouse and although the Marauders have undergone a coaching change, they remain one of the favorites to win the section title.
In aligning the schools into the new configuration, the AIA placed the former 3A East region teams as well as the former 4A Grand Canyon schools into D-III, Section I.
“Those were top to bottom the two toughest regions in 3A and 4A, so now that they are all in the same section there is going to be some great wrestling in the tournament,” Heizer predicts.
Around the state, Division III tournaments for Section II and III will also be conducted.
The top five finishers in each weight class of the three section tournaments will advance to the Division III “state” tournament to be held Feb. 11 and 12 at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.
Since that means only 15 wrestlers will advance, a “wild card” in each weight class will be selected to round out the field of 16.
The wild card wrestler will be the sectional sixth-place finisher who has the highest winning percentage.
If a tie in winning percentages occurs, wrestle-offs will be held.
Another unique aspect of the first-ever section tournament is that there could be a match for a “true second place” in each weight division.
That match will occur if the second- and thirdplace finishers do not meet during the course of the tournament.
The two would clash for second-place state seeding purposes, but no medals or points would be awarded.
Heizer said the true second-place match is needed because at the state meet only the top two finishers in each of the sectionals will be seeded.
Which means, a second-place section finish will be much more advantageous at state than a third place.
Sectional action tips off at 11:30 a.m., Friday, Feb. 4 in Wilson Dome. The coaches’ seeding meeting and weigh-ins will take place prior to the contest start.
Wrestling in a double elimination format will continue until about 7 p.m., Friday, and resume 10 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 5.
Wrestling in the quarter, semi and consolation rounds is expected to wrap up about 4 p.m. when Wilson Dome will be cleared of all spectators.
At 5 p.m. the dome will reopen and the championship rounds begin.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association has set admission prices at $6 for students and $8 for adults, each session.
All-day passes are $12.
Varner is stressing tickets prices were not set by the school and is recommending hardcore fans planning on attending all three sessions on both days purchase the all-day passes.
Since the dome will be cleared on Saturday before the finals, adults would have to purchase an $8 ticket for the early session and another $8 ticket for the championship finals.
“A $12 all-day pass is a better bargain,” said Varner.
Another advantage of an all-day pass, is that spectators can leave the dome and return.
Those who hold session-only passes cannot be readmitted once they leave the dome.