Two Franklin Community High School wrestlers brought home championships Saturday night — D.J. Smith at 113 pounds and Jacob Stevenson at 170.
And while Franklin stole the spotlight Saturday, it was Center Grove’s Tyler Fleener who may have the most heart-wrenching story of the season.
Fleener’s final wrestling season included its share of hurt body parts and wounded pride.
Through it all, though, the Center Grove senior proved to be a picture of determination.
By dominating the consolation match at 138 pounds in Saturday’s State Finals, Fleener managed to complete his career victorious on two counts.
“Tyler broke his left hip during a match in December, and quite honestly we thought that was the end of his season,” Trojans coach Cale Hoover explained.
It wasn’t, though Fleener’s return prior to postseason competition meant treatment and little to no practice time leading up to the Mooresville Sectional and Regional.
The strategy at that point would be to advance to the title match at both levels and then default due to injury. This not only ensured Fleener would move on, it allowed him to preserve his body.
A flu bug forced Fleener to miss practice on both the Monday and Tuesday leading up to the Evansville Semistate. He eventually recovered, worked his way through the bracketing and lost a hard-fought 9-8 thriller to Franklin senior Skyler Lykins in the final.
“He won his first three matches at semistate, and for the first time you didn’t see any grimaces from him,” Hoover said. “This week was his first full week of preparation since being injured.”
Fleener’s path to a third-place medal included wins against Western’s Dustin Hinkle and Lowell’s Drew Hughes. He later lost 7-4 to eventual state champion Tommy Cash of Lawrence North in the semifinals, 7-4.
Ironically, it was during a match against Cash at the Al Smith Invitational in Mishawaka in which Fleener broke his hip.
“He’s gone through a lot this season,” Hoover said. “We’ve had a lot of long talks, and this week I saw Tyler in the best frame of mind I’ve seen him in. Very focused and very determined.”
Fleener finished the season with a 22-6 record.
While Smith and Stevenson finished first for Franklin, the weren’t the only Grizzly Cubs to shine Saturday.
Franklin’s Connor Tolley finished third, downing Indianapolis Ritter’s Dylan Faulkenberg, 2-1, in the 220-pound consolation match.
“Honestly, I’m a senior, so I thought that if I give everything I had, I would be happy. Effort-wise I gave everything I could,” said Tolley, who finished the season with a 43-2 record.
“I couldn’t ask for a better season. I love my teammates and about 11 of us seniors have been together from our freshman year until now. That’s been the key to our success.”
Tolley’s future plans are to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It’s there he’ll be a wrestling teammate of former Center Grove standout Sean Mappes, the 2012 state champion at 170 pounds.
“I’m going to miss this and miss my family up here, but I’m looking forward to making a new family in Chattanooga,” Tolley said.
The senior added that learning from longtime Grizzly Cubs coach Bob Hasseman is the ideal training for what lies ahead.
“Your freshman year you come in, and he’s really intimidating. He tells you the truth, but that’s what makes you better,” Tolley said. “Coach Hasseman and his family put everything into the program. I just love the guy to death. He knows what it takes to be successful.”
Lykins took sixth at 138 pounds after losing to Hughes in the fifth-place match. The Franklin wrestler opened the finals with a 10-1 decision against Dominic Garrett of Fort Wayne Dwenger, but lost to eventual runner-up Jacob Covaciu of Merrillville, 5-2, to drop into the loser’s bracket.
Lykins then recorded an 8-1 decision against Portage sophomore Steven Lawrence before losing to Hughes.
Greenwood senior Bailey Schober secured seventh-place in the 145-pound weight class after placing eighth here a year ago.
“It’s a little disappointing. I wanted to finish a little higher, and that didn’t happen, so I just tried to finish as strong as I could,” said Schober, who’ll be attending Indiana University next year, but won’t wrestle for the Hoosiers.
“I’m sure I’m going to miss it, but wrestling is hard on your body.”
Woodmen coach Chris Campbell was happy to see Schober finish his wrestling career on the state’s biggest stage.
“I was glad to see him at his best in that last match. Against a good opponent he got it going,” said Campbell, referring to Schober’s 3-2 win against Fishers senior Jordan Lile in the seventh-place match. “To get here and medal is a great thing.”