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Franklin has shot at crown

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During his 28 seasons at Franklin, Bob Hasseman has accomplished just about everything a high school wrestling coach can accomplish.

For example, he’s had multiple individual state champions. His teams have won numerous titles, including conference, sectional, regional and semistate crowns, and the prestigious Team State Duals.

In addition, the Grizzly Cubs have been No. 1 in the state poll. And Hasseman himself has been honored as the state’s Wrestling Coach of the Year.

That’s as close to a complete resume as a coach could ever ask for — with one notable exception: The Cubs have never won a team state title.

They are determined to get one this weekend.

“It’s real important to us,” said senior D.J. Smith, ranked No. 1 at 113 pounds heading into tonight’s first round of the IHSAA State Meet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “We won a sectional title, a regional title, a semistate title, so we think we can definitely get this team state title.

“It would mean a lot to us, and we feel like we have a very good opportunity to get this.”

If momentum and numbers are an indication, the Cubs have everything in place to make a run.

Ranked No. 1 and undefeated in dual meets, Franklin won its first-ever semistate title last week and, in the process, qualified five wrestlers for the state finals. The team title be will determined by cumulative point totals during Saturday’s quarterfinals, semifinals, consolations and finals rounds — which makes tonight’s first round critical in pursuit of the championship.

No one is more aware of that than Hasseman, a veteran of myriad state finals appearances who — like his wrestlers — would love nothing more than to leave the fieldhouse with the team title. The Cubs qualified for the first seven IHSAA Team State Meets, an event that was discarded two years ago, but never won the championship.

Yet as meaningful as a team title would be to the Cubs, Hasseman hasn’t made winning it a point of emphasis. Rather, he’s approached state finals week the same as any other — with laser focus on the match at hand and not on what may or may not happen Saturday.

The state meet, after all, has enough built-in pressure. Hasseman has no intention of adding to it by making the team title the be-all, end-all objective.

“You get so jacked up and nervous to do all these great things. You’ve just got to go in relaxed and confident and take it one match at a time,” he said. “(Tonight) is obviously huge. Let’s win (tonight), let’s move on and place as high as we can, and let the chips fall where they may.

“That’s kind of the way it is.”

Besides Smith, who’s 35-1 at 113 pounds, the Cubs’ state finalists are senior Skyler Lykins at 138 (36-1); junior Jacob Stevenson at 170 (36-1); senior Michael Petrole at 182 (34-); and senior Connor Tolley at 220 (37-0). Smith, Lykins, Stevenson and Tolley are semistate champions.

All five enter the state finals with individual as well as team goals and are among eight Johnson County wrestlers vying for individual championships. The others are Greenwood senior Bailey Schober (41-1), a semistate champion at 145 pounds; freshman teammate Jacob Skaggs at 113 (35-6); and Center Grove senior Tyler Fleener at 138 (18-5).

As for the Franklin contingent, each individual understands the better he fares, the better the team will in pursuit of the title.

“We all know what we have to do this weekend,” Lykins said. “We all know the challenges we’re going to face, and we all know that it’s not going to be a walk in the park by any means, but we definitely have confidence. We’ve been through tough matches before.

“We’ve seen tough competition, and we know what it takes to win, so it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”

Hasseman is confident the Cubs can do it, but he knows there are no guarantees. Lurking in the field is three-time defending state champion Perry Meridian, along with traditional state powers Cathedral, Yorktown and Evansville Mater Dei. Each has enough qualifiers to challenge for the title, and each is capable of winning it.

“Would our team like to, and has that been the goal? Yeah, I think it still is. They all want to get in the finals,” Hasseman said. “But you’ve got to take it one match at a time. You overlook one guy, and you’re done. I lost six guys in a heartbeat down at semistate. We had some tough draws. I didn’t think we wrestled bad; it’s just kind of the way it is.

“Draws are tough sometimes.”

The state finals are no different. Every first-round draw can end a season, especially for anyone looking ahead to Saturday.

“Strange things happen on (Friday), and that’s too much pressure, really. I want our kids to relax and have fun,” Hasseman said. “We’ve got a good group, and they’re doing good things. It’s just been a real great year.

“Would it be nice to win a state title? Man, that would be awesome. That (seems like) the only thing left to do. They’ve stuck with it. They’re all great kids. They’re great in the classroom, they’re great out of the classroom. They’re just a good group of guys.

“They work hard, they’re goal-driven, they want to succeed, and that makes a big difference.”

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