Franklin wrestlers use four individual titles to claim Southeast Conference title
Sabers now begin road to their sixth straight WIAA state team berth
Guys were missing and that didn't matter.
Other squads got inspired and chased after them, and that didn't matter.
Because all that mattered to the Franklin wrestlers at Saturday's Southeast Conference Tournament was "the team" and how the team did.
And it did quite well, as the Sabers rode individual titles from Xianou Xiong at 106 pounds, Roman Stiff at 138, Myles Devine at 170 and Kyle Smith at 182 to an impressive championship in the league event.
"And we have a lot left in us yet," said Stiff. "The coaches are pushing us a lot harder this year. It's a great training environment. This is a nice feeling, but we want even more now."
The Sabers, who lost out on the league tourney title last season to Kenosha Tremper after winning the dual meet crown, begins their road to their 10th WIAA state team tournament berth since 2001 and their sixth in a row when they take part in Saturday's regional competition at Burlington, starting at 10:30 a.m.
The top four individuals in each weight class advance to the individual sectional Feb. 16 at Racine Case.
The regional team champion will take on the winner of the Marquette regional on Tuesday at Racine Horlick in a dual meet that will determine who advances to the WIAA state team tournament March 1 and 2 in Madison.
"The win (conference) will be a great confidence builder going into regionals," coach Chad Phillippi said. "We will enjoy the win over the weekend, but come Monday, we will need to refocus and prepare ourselves for Saturday."
Franklin beat Bradley Tech last season in the team dual, but its road out of the regional will be tougher this year as state power Burlington will look to get in the Sabers' way.
"We'll really have to bring it," said Stiff, a two-time state individual qualifier.
Franklin scored 244 points in the Southeast event as Kenosha Bradford was second (183).
The four champions led the way and were part of an eight Saber contingent that made the finals.
Xiong (22-9 overall) claimed his title with a 4-1 decision over an Oak Creek opponent and a pin in 2:42 over a Bradford foe.
Meanwhile, Stiff (31-6) pinned both Kenosha Tremper (1:24) and Bradford (1:35) foes en route to his crown. Devine (30-7) was very impressive in claiming his bracket, pinning Indian Trail (1:07), Bradford (5:31) and Tremper (5:08) opponents.
His Tremper opponent had a record of 36-6 going into the final.
And the steady Smith (32-4) retained a strong leadership role for the Sabers, pinning a Racine Case opponent (24 seconds) and then beating a Bradford foe, 9-2, in the final.
Others who lost in the finals included Louden Brown at 120 (13-15), Daniel Peyer at 160 (16-16), Brian Lacina at 220 (3-3) and Jake Harmen at 285 (14-11).
Earning thirds were Josh Arrington at 145 (6-10) and Marcus Grimm at 182 (14-10).
"It was a nice win for the team and we were able to cross off one of our goals," Phillippi said. "I was very impressed with the guys filling in and also the heart displayed by our team. We won several matches in the final seconds."
Stiff said that workmanlike attitude comes from the hard training environment.
"We had a fair number of byes through the first round and that helped, but we also got a lot of pins when we needed them," he said. "I don't think we've seen our best yet.
"This is a nice feeling, but we didn't celebrate too much because we know we have more work to do."
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