In 20 years, when Garrett Pepple looks back at his junior wrestling season at East Noble High School, he'll probably chuckle. Then he'll recall how he thought at the time, back in 2014, that getting second at the IHSAA finals – for the second straight year – was devastating. He will say things like, “I was this close” and “I had him right where I wanted him” and so on.
But perspective is acquired over time, like gray hair. And it's as foreign to teenagers as, well, gray hair.
So for now, Pepple can only think about last month's runner-up finish in the 113-pound final as something he never wants to relive. Of course, this is where both narratives, future and present, can meet as one.
Pepple hopes to one day look back at his junior year's heartbreak and talk about how it was the driving force behind his state championship his senior year. Knights coach Keith Hoffar will not be surprised.
“I know (state runner-up) will help Garrett,” said Hoffar, a man with perspective. “He will be back.”
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let's recognize Pepple's 41-2 season and how he came within seconds of winning the state title. For these efforts, Pepple has been named The News-Sentinel PrepSports Wrestler of the Year.
After a very early season loss, Pepple reeled off three dozen straight victories and was rarely challenged. He defeated five ranked opponents, pinning three of them. Even at the state tournament, he dominated his competition, winning by pin, decision and major decision before facing Franklin Community senior D.J. Smith, the heavy favorite, in the finals. There, Pepple gained an early takedown and rode Smith out the rest of the first period and nearly all of the second before giving up an escape and takedown at the buzzer. In the third, Pepple escaped early to tie the score and was nearing a takedown when Smith countered and scored with just 23 seconds remaining.
“When I got that takedown, I thought I knew how things would go,” Pepple said. “Usually, when you score first, you've got it.”
Pepple recalled the third period: “The whole time I thought I would score. It was right there.”
Hoffar agreed: “Garrett was so close. Against a very strong wrestler, he was there. If he'd been able to get his hips around, it would have ended differently. But when you are wrestling for a state championship, the opponent is good at stopping the best moves.”
Moments after that disappointing defeat, Hoffar began talking about “next year” and offering a historical perspective.
“I had a young man come down here and lose the championship his first two years and then he got third as a junior,” Hoffar said. “Then as a senior, he won the state title. That was Taylor March. Those losses made him a better wrestler.”
Pepple has already talked about being a better wrestler and how his experiences will help him.
“Things happen for a reason,” Pepple said. “I'll be back next year. I'll get bigger and stronger.”