Mark Everett's news was greeted with silence. Dozens of pairs of eyes looked in his direction as the Williamson head coach laid out the pros and cons of the Warriors opting out of the District 4 Duals tournament.
As he made his points, Everett could see his wrestlers were on board. Williamson was set to be the No. 2 seed in the District 4 Duals, but instead it opted out of the tournament because the flu and injuries have taken their toll on the Northern Tier League champions.
"I had a meeting with the kids and the staff and we just figured it was the best thing for us to heal before the sectional tournament," Everett said Sunday night. "It's a very tough decision to drop out, but it's one we think was the smart move for our team. It's not one we really wanted to do. This was our goal all year. We're just beat up."
Williamson was one of two teams to opt out of the tournament, joining Bucktail, which opted out after an 8-6 season. The Bucks would have been the 13th seed. The two teams opting out put the tournament field at an even 16 teams, meaning no pigtail matches will be wrestled tonight. The eight first-round matches will be wrestled Wednesday night at the sites of the higher seeds at 7 p.m. The quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will be wrestled Saturday at Milton High School beginning at 11 a.m.
Jersey Shore faces Shikellamy in the Class AAA championship Saturday at Milton at 1:30 p.m.
Williamson has just one more competition before the sectional tournaments on Feb. 16, a dual-meet against Wellsboro. Everett said making sure his team is healthy for the potentially four-week individual postseason run trumped the potential gains from competing in this week's District 4 Duals tournament, and potentially next week's PIAA Duals tournament.
"Flu wise, it's a lot worse this year than other years. It's hit everybody hard," Everett said. "Once one kid gets it, everyone runs through it. On top of that we have some key injuries to key guys."
Sophomore Billy Barnes finished off a major decision victory against Canton on Thursday for Williamson and immediately sat behind the Williamson bench with two bags of ice on his left thigh. Warriors returning state qualifier Tyrus Hamblin has missed several dual meets for Williamson since the turn of the new year.
Williamson opting out of the tournament had a major impact on the seedings and the brackets. Prior to opting out, Central Columbia, the top seed, was set to potentially meet Benton in the quarterfinals first thing Saturday morning. The prohibitive favorites as the top two teams in the field, Benton and Central Columbia's dual-meet was decided by just five points some two weeks ago.
With Williamson opting out, Benton was bumped to the seventh seed from eight and is now on the opposite side of the bracket. Warrior Run (14-3) moves into the No. 2 seed and hosts North Penn (9-9) on Wednesday. Montgomery is the third seed at 13-3 and hosts No. 14 South Williamsport (9-8) also on Wednesday. Other local teams in the tournament include Lewisburg (fourth seed), Montoursville (ninth seed), Muncy (11th seed), Hughesville (12th seed) and Sullivan County (16th seed).
"It's a tough decision. I know it changed a lot of seeds," Everett said. "I'm sure it made some people mad and it made some others really happy. But I can't worry about that, I have to worry about my team. I know it made a huge difference for everyone else, but this is what's best for us."
Part of the concern for Everett was getting into the heat of the moment when the adrenaline is flowing during the tournament, knowing his kids who probably shouldn't be wrestling would end up wanting to wrestle when a match got to crunch time. Everett said he was also concerned he and the coaching staff would give into that temptation and allow the wrestlers to take the mat.
"We wanted to get in there and see just how well we could do with the competition and if we could get further down the road," Everett said. "It's one of those things, we just couldn't do it with what we have. It's tempting for the coaches and it's tempting for the kids to want to wrestle. Now we can get ready for the individual part of the year. The team thing is great, but I think it's best for our team."
For the first time, three teams from the District 4 Class AA tournament will make the state tournament this year. The top two teams advance directly to Hershey for the PIAA Duals tournament. The team who finishes third - in a matchup of the two semifinal-losing teams - will wrestle a PIAA pigtail match against the District 11 runner-up on Monday, Feb. 4 at Whitehall High School at 6 p.m.
The winner of the Class AAA tournament - Jersey Shore beat Shikellamy, 34-33, in a December dual meet - advances directly to Hershey for the PIAA tournament.