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New class expansion offers opportunities

By Rob Sherrill
      
We’re just days away from the start of a new wrestling season. And it’s a season with rules that will be completely foreign to almost all of us.

Illinois wrestling enters a brave new world as class expansion continues to work its way through the Illinois High School Association’s overall athletic program. This year, the state tournament expands from two to three classes.


The new system officially brings down the curtain on the two-class system that ruled the state for the past 34 years. It’s the first significant change in the process of state qualification since 1982, when district tournaments were renamed regionals and qualification to the sectionals was expanded from two to three qualifiers to match qualifying numbers from the sectional to the state. Sectional qualifiers for the state tournament had expanded from two to three qualifiers in 1978.

In legacy states like Illinois, change happens gradually. It remains to be seen whether this move will be a good one.

Some are upset that the class expansion will dilute the talent pool. This is not open to debate. Yes, it absolutely will. It did in other tough states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa, and it will here, too.

On a more positive note, though, dozens of mid-sized schools choked out by the big schools in the former Class AA could finally see the light of day. And those schools make up the bulk of the rankings in the new Class AA. Schools like Troy Triad, Champaign Central, Fenton, Glenbard South, Rochelle, Highland, Dixon, schools that probably never had a prayer of being ranked in the former Class AA, all now have a chance to get some attention and recognition. Mahomet-Seymour, which wrote much of the Class A record book but never really hit its stride while bumped into the former AA, suddenly becomes a state contender. The chances improve as well for Sandwich, which is still in transition from small-school power to big-school contender.

So where do we stand? In the new Class AAA, nothing really has changed. The monsters of the wrestling midway can still be found there. If you like the week-by-week battles involving Providence, Glenbard North, Sandburg, Neuqua Valley, West Aurora, Granite City, Edwardsville, St. Rita and Chicago Mount Carmel, just to name a few, stay tuned. You’ll get as much of the big boys as you like. The lone exception: Montini, which just graduated to the big time three years ago. The Broncos once again take a step backward and fall to the new Class AA.

The Suburban Catholic power ended its run in the former Class A with a record four consecutive championships. It’s likely, should they remain as long, that they’ll fare just as well in the new AA. But there are enough tough teams there, Crystal Lake Central, Mahomet-Seymour, Bloomington, Yorkville, to make their initial run interesting.

The class expansion has made Class A a little tougher, too. Ordinarily, we’d consider two-time defending Class A champion Wilmington, with most of its lineup back and seven state qualifiers, a slam-dunk to make it a three-peat this year.

Not so fast, my friends. The Wildcats have company. Last season it was their good fortune that Harvard, with a team that could well have taken the Class A crown, was bumped up to the former Class AA for the first time in school history. The Hornets had a solid season – posting a 25-2 record that included a victory over Class AA place winner Libertyville – and finished a close second to another state dual qualifier, Hononegah, in the regional. Now they’re back, though with a lineup that suffered significant graduation losses.

A more significant addition, this year at least,  is my old hometown team Canton. Long one of the state’s smallest Class AA schools, the Little Giants made great strides the past two seasons, even cracking my Illinois Best Weekly rankings on occasion. This year, Canton is the largest Class A school. With a senior-dominated lineup that will be strong from 130 on up, it will be interesting to see whether they have enough pieces to be a contender.

As  the Thanksgiving tournaments at Conant, Barrington, Wheaton-Warrenville South and Guerin take place this week, along with some interesting early-season duals at  the official start of the season, we’re heading into uncharted territory. While the new Class AAA takes its place as the new “champions league,” Class AA teams have a chance to step onto the stage. Some new life is being pumped into Class A. And I’ll be as interested as you are to see how it all plays out.


 

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