Franklin High School wrestling team matches best finish ever

Published 10:22 am Friday, March 11, 2022

Franklin High School’s outstanding varsity wrestling team finished fifth in the recent Virginia High School League Class 1 State Tournament, a result that is tied for the program’s best finish in school history.

The 2018-19 Broncos team ended its season tied for fifth in the state.

This year, the Broncos were among 27 teams competing in the state tourney at Salem Civic Center on Feb. 18-19.

“We finished fifth in the state behind at least three powerhouse wrestling teams,” Franklin Head Coach Daniel “Bull” Johnson said, highlighting Grundy High School, Riverheads High School and Castlewood High School.

Grundy placed first with 303.5 points, Rural Retreat High School placed second with 205, Riverheads was third with 197, Castlewood was fourth with 140, and Franklin was fifth with 100.

“So we finished, I think, pretty well for what we have,” Johnson said.

He noted that this year, the Broncos had eight wrestlers who competed in the state tourney, with a ninth that was an alternate.

The Franklin wrestlers who were active on the state mat in Salem included sophomore 106-pounder Taygan Blankenship, sophomore 113-pounder Samuel Harrison, senior 120-pounder Bishop Joyner, senior 132-pounder Cameron Ridley, senior 138-pounder Da’Von Curtis, senior 145-pounder Devin Deshields, junior 160-pounder Markelyn Fenner and senior heavyweight Curtis Jordan.

“Five of them were all-state wrestlers, so we did right well,” Johnson said, summarizing the Broncos’ performance in the state tourney.

The five Franklin wrestlers who earned medals by placing in the top six of their weight classes in Class 1 were Fenner and Harrison, who each finished in fifth; Curtis, who finished in fourth; and Deshields and Joyner, who were state runners-up.

Joyner finished second to Riverheads sophomore Jake Yowell, who won by pin, and Deshields finished second to Grundy senior Chris Stiltner, who also won by pin.

“They did good,” Johnson said of Joyner and Deshields, who each went 2-1 in the state tournament. “The guy that Devin lost to in the finals from Grundy, he ended up being a four-time state champion. … And Bishop lost to a good kid from Riverheads.”

Despite the loss, Deshields finished with a 27-6 individual record for the season, and Joyner finished with a 34-3 record.

As a team, Franklin went 24-4 for the season.

“All four losses were on the same day,” Johnson said. “We went to Charlottesville High School to a big tournament, and we were eight starters short because of the flu and COVID. So besides that one date, we won every match that we were a part of.”

Johnson said he will remember the 2021-22 Franklin wrestling squad as a great team. He noted that its members went through a lot this season, still navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and then also persevering through a demanding cardio regimen from Assistant Coach Johnnie McKeller that put them in good position to compete.

“Those kids worked hard this year to be where they were at, and we’ve got a lot coming back next year, so Franklin wrestling is doing great,” Johnson said.