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Franklin wrestlers capture state championships

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Bob Hasseman is a large enough man that he barely budged the instant D.J. Smith jumped into his embrace.

That’s not to imply Franklin Community’s wrestling coach wasn’t moved.

Smith became the third state champion in the program’s rich history by way of a 5-3 decision over East Noble junior Garrett Pepple in the 113-pound finale at the IHSAA Wrestling State Finals.

Two hours later it was Jacob Stevenson’s turn, the junior defeating Penn’s Chase Osborn, 7-3, to reign supreme in the 170-pound weight division.

In all, the Grizzly Cubs exited Bankers Life Fieldhouse late Saturday night with two state champions, runner-up status in the final team standings and the recipient of the Ward E. Brown Mental Attitude Award.

Senior Skyler Lykins, a 4.0 student and three-time state finalist who Saturday placed sixth at 138 pounds, earned the latter distinction.

“How about that. What a night. Both (championship) matches were nail-biters that came right down to the end,” an elated Hasseman said. “My team’s had a great run this year. It’s been almost to the point where it’s surreal, and I really think it’s a tribute to the kids.

“I try to stress that team thing, and if you don’t work hard, somebody’s going, ‘You’re not working hard.’ Sometimes some guys will quit, and that’s just the way it is. It’s a hard thing to maintain.”

A boisterous contingent of blue-shirted Grizzly Cubs fans watched Smith rally from a 2-0 deficit and score the championship points on a takedown with 28 seconds remaining in the third period.

Upon winning — facing Franklin fans in the lower tier of the fieldhouse’s south end — Smith raised both arms with fists clenched.

Then came the 5-foot-2 wrestler’s run into his coach’s arms.

The ultimate.

“It’s definitely the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life. Nothing in my life has come close to living up to this,” a sweat-soaked Smith said. “This is a moment I’ll never forget. It feels so awesome to be able to do it for our school.”

After placing fourth at the state meet as a junior at 106, Smith made it his mission to conclude his prep career in style.

Pepple didn’t make it easy.

As the defending state runner-up at 106 to New Palestine’s Chad Red, the junior had wrestled under the lights before. Smith, even with his vast varsity experience, hadn’t.

With the match even at 3-all and Smith not desiring overtime, he took care of business.

“It was tied up, and I was starting to gas a little bit. I knew I had to get a quick takedown. I didn’t shoot at that whole match, so I was more aggressive there at the end and was able to get the takedown and then was able to ride him out for the last 20 seconds.”

Smith’s triumph capped a 39-1 season, while Stevenson’s title put him at 40-1.

“It’s a great, great feeling,” said Stevenson, who adjusted nicely to moving up two weight classes after wrestling 152 last season. “The difference for me is just experience. Learning from our coaches and not making the stupid mistakes.”

Stevenson admitted watching his teammate accept his first-place medal earlier in the evening played a factor in his own success.

“That took so much pressure off of me. I was ready to go. I wish I could’ve wrestled the match after he did,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson in 2014-15 will headline the group of holdovers from what was a senior-dominated Franklin squad.

Meanwhile, the contributions of Smith, Lykins, Conner Tolley (third at 220 pounds) and others who’ll be departing won’t soon be forgotten.

“It’s been one heck of a journey. Each and every day we went into that room and worked as hard as we could. Ran as hard as we could. We would stay in that room until 6:30. It sucked doing that for four years, but it was worth it,” Smith said.

“I’m blessed to be part of this program. I have no regrets.”

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