North wrestler Caleb Franklin’s junior season was bittersweet. He went into the Class 6A tournament with a perfect record, and won his first two matches before losing two and finishing fifth at 220 pounds.
Franklin’s final season looks much like last year’s, as he is undefeated at 195, with two duals and the City League tournament ahead of him leading into regionals.
“Last year he made one mistake and it cost him from winning state,” North coach Jake Johnston said. “This year he seems more focused and happy with wrestling; he’s definitely enjoying wrestling more this year.”
His physicality has led to his success this season, but new competition awaits at the state tournament at 195 — Franklin is ranked fourth in 6A at his weight, while returning state champion Seth Peske from Gardner-Edgerton is at the top of the rankings.
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“He knows at the state tournament there are at least four or five guys that are really good wrestlers, very accomplished, and just like him, every one of those guys have a goal of winning state,” Johnston said.
Franklin has a strong double leg, and forces his opponents to wrestle his style.
“That’s what the best wrestlers do,” Johnston said. “They make the match wrestle their way and obviously he’s a very physical and aggressive guy.”
Franklin is not the only North wrestler seeing results this season. Roberto Lopez is making a name for himself in his second year of wrestling. Lopez caught attention when he defeated Heights’ Armond McCray, who placed fifth at 120 at state last year.
“His first year wrestling for us he qualified for state. Sometimes he’s been able to beat elite athletes like McCray, but sometimes he’s made mistakes and lost some matches that he could have won, but that’s from inexperience,” Johnston said.
Derby’s transformation — Derby’s state-champion football team posed a problem for its wrestling team’s season, at least in its early stages. With the football postseason dipping into the beginning of wrestling practices, a number of multi-sport athletes didn’t get in the wrestling room until the season started.
In its first tournament of the season — the Valley Center Dual Tournament — Derby finished at the bottom of its bracket, and was one of two teams that didn’t wrestle in the final round.
“Our football team won the state championship, and at Valley Center we had 10 JV guys in our lineup, so we didn’t have our whole team there,” coach Bill Ross said.
But despite losing its first six duals, Ross knew his arsenal would show at the turn of the season.
“We started the season 0-6 in duals, so we looked at that as an opportunity to give our JV guys some experience,” Ross said. “We always approach it as you go with the best team you’ve got on that weekend. We knew we had a chance to get better.”
The Panthers returned three state placers from last year, Garrett Xanders, Cody McDonald, and senior Blake Bradford, as well as two who were one match away from placing in Jose Santillion and Braden Dipman. Sophomore Tanner Smith is also an asset to Derby, currently ranked third at 106. Derby is ranked third in 6A.
“We’re starting to put some pace together, starting to get in shape, starting to wrestle well, but we want to make sure we don’t hit our peak too early, so we still have room to get a lot better,” Ross said.
Ross’ main focus is to keep the team healthy for the final month of the season.
“This time of year your main focus is to remain healthy,” Ross said. “Our goal right now is to be completely healthy and go into the regional tournament with full steam.”