The high school wrestling tournament begins Saturday at 32 sectional sites around the state, including Indianapolis-area teams at Arlington, Avon, Hamilton Heights, Mooresville, Northwest, Warren Central and Zionsville.
The top four individuals in each weight class advance to regionals Feb. 2. For the first time since 1995 there will not be a separate team tournament, with the state champion determined by the performance of its individual wrestlers. The state championship will be Feb. 15-16 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Here are five things to watch:
1.Can Kayla Miracle follow up on her historical junior season with a return trip to the state meet?
How did the Culver Academies junior follow up on a sophomore season that saw her become the first girl to advance to the state meet? Pretty well. She's 30-1, ranked 12th in her weight class and is the top seed at 120 pounds in the Plymouth Sectional. At least on paper, Miracle should get to Bankers Life Fieldhouse once again.
2.How does the tourney format change alter preparations?
The Indiana High School Athletic Association did away with the team state tournament this year; regionals, semistates and the state title will be determined by how each program's individuals do, as the sectional has been determined in previous years. For top-ranked Perry Meridian -- which has won two consecutive state titles and ended this season with a 75-match dual-meet win streak -- it does propose a bit of a change.
"The time commitment to the team will change a bit since we will not be focusing on that aspect, but honestly, preparing for the team tournament helped take the individual tournament off the minds of our kids and not put much pressure on them," Perry Meridian coach Jim Tonte said. "They were relaxed in the individual tournament. We will, however, have more time to prepare for certain opponents. I am not sure if that is good or bad, but we will see."
3.Which is the best sectional?
Warren Central. Not be in terms of potential individual state champ -- although there could be a few in the field -- but in terms of overall balance. The field includes two teams ranked in the top 10 -- No. 2 Warren Central and No. 10 New Palestine -- according to the Indianamat.com Power Rankings, which are determined by how individuals ranked in the state poll to mimic the state finals format.
It also includes 22 ranked wrestlers and, if the seedings hold up, there could five sectional-championship matches involving wrestlers ranked in the top 10 of their weight classes. Impressive for a sectional field.
4.How many undefeated wrestlers will remain after sectionals?
There are 17 in the area who enter the postseason with a zero in the loss column. Some likely will coast through the sectional. For others, it could be more difficult. At 113 pounds, unranked Crispus Attucks' Charlie Baker is 30-0 but could face Perry Meridian's third-ranked Jacob Cottey (26-1) in the sectional final. At 160, Western Boone's Austin McCloskey (33-0) may have to go through third-ranked John Tatom (27-1) of Hamilton Southeastern. Both were state placers a year ago. And something has to give at Warren Central, where top-ranked C.J. Red of New Palestine and No. 9 Matthew McKinney of Warren Central are a combined 60-0 at 106 pounds.
5.How does Mitch Sliga stay focused? The Fishers senior -- the defending state champ at 195 pounds -- is a four-time national champ and has yet to be tested this season. He's 35-0 and has either pinned or picked up a technical fall against every opponent. There isn't a single ranked wrestler in the 195-pound weight class in the Zionsville Sectional, but that doesn't mean Sliga plans on taking the day off.
"The focus this weekend is coming to every match prepared and peaking for the rest of the state tournament series," Sliga said.