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  • Val T.

‘I didn’t give up:’ Rochester’s Peppler, Hiroms, McKee advance to girls wrestling state finals


Sports Editor, RTC

Three Rochester wrestlers advanced to the Indiana High School Girls Wrestling state finals from the Rochester semistate Friday. From left – Grace Hiroms, who was third at 155 pounds; Laine Peppler, who was second at 145; and Makenna McKee, who was fourth at 125. The state tournament will be held at Kokomo at 11 a.m. next Friday.

Rochester’s Laine Peppler, Grace Hiroms and Makenna McKee all finished in the top four of their weight class to advance to the state finals from the Rochester semistate at the RHS gym Friday.

Peppler finished second at 145, Hiroms was third at 155, and McKee was fourth at 125. Peppler is a sophomore, Hiroms a senior and McKee a freshman. Hiroms is going to state for the second straight year while Peppler and McKee will both be making their first state appearances.

Kokomo will host the state finals at 11 a.m. next Friday.

Rochester scored 59 points and finished in fourth place among the 50 schools that had at least one participant. East Noble won with 131 points while New Haven was second with 117.5 and Columbia City third with 88.

Laine Peppler

Peppler, who came in ranked No. 9 in the state according to, defeated West Noble’s Jazmyne Espinoza by fall in 1:00 and Angola’s Mia Walker by fall in 2:10 to reach the semifinals and earn her state berth before pinning Blackford’s Addison Flores in 4:29 to reach the final.

Her day ended with a loss by fall to New Haven junior Olivia Bohde, ranked No. 2, in 4:49 in the final.

Peppler said she did not heed the advice she received about staying on her feet. Once Bohde and Peppler started rolling around on the mat, Bohde repeatedly went to a full nelson to trap Peppler’s shoulder.

“It wasn’t the fact that she was tough,” Peppler explained of her match against Bohde. “It’s the fact that I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t listening to what Coach was telling me.”

Bohde, a junior, had the experience factor in her favor.

“Laine is a very strong 145-pounder, and she can get away with a lot of things, but when you wrestle somebody who has some technique and strength, it cancels some of that stuff out, and I think it just highlighted some things we just need to work on – just working to basics and if things aren’t working, reverting back to our basics. So that’s what we’re going to be working on this week.”

Peppler said she had never tried any sport, much less wrestled, prior to the 2022-23 school year. She said she learned she loved the sport “nearly as soon as I started.” She said she “immediately felt happy with it.”

She went to the Jeff Jordan State Champ Camp in Urbana, Ohio, and she did conditioning and strength work. She also finished in third place at Freestyle State.

“I made massive leaps and bounds over the summer just because of the fact I worked my butt off during the summer,” Peppler said. “I didn’t give up.”

Grace Hiroms

Hiroms came in 18-3 on the day, and she needed to spend just 1:26 total on the mat to pin Elkhart’s Isabella Teitsma and Jay County’s Madison Gage to earn another state spot.

She then lost to Eastside freshman Rhaigyn Trenary, ranked second, by fall in 2:20 in the semifinals before recovering to beat New Haven’s Kaily Bussard by fall in 4:11 to win the third-place match.

Hiroms, ranked fifth, had lost to No. 4 Bussard by fall when they last met at the Rochester Invitational earlier in the year, but Hiroms did not allow a takedown in this match, even letting Bussard back up on two occasions just to keep her on her feet so she could take her down again.

A reversal and two near-falls gave her seven points in the second period as she opened up an 11-2 lead. She would eventually put Bussard out of her misery in the third period.

Hiroms said her season has been frustrating and was lukewarm about going back to state.

“It didn’t go as I expected,” Hiroms said. “I had to work a lot harder than I did last year. … Last year, I didn’t face any real competition until regionals, and then I lost and I lost in the finals at state, and those were my only two losses. And this year, I’ve already lost four times already.”

Wilson said Hiroms beating Bussard after losing to her previously was a sign of mental strength.

“It was very, very great and nice to see because once you lose to somebody, it’s very tough to get one back over on them, especially on a fall,” Wilson said. “In my opinion in that match, Grace won in every single position, and she knew what she needed to do to break her.”

Makenna McKee

McKee defeated Homestead’s Hayden Sherman by fall in 48 seconds and Monroe Central’s Raegan Quattlebaum by fall in 2:45 to punch her ticket to state.

She then lost to Angola’s Nevaeh Wilson by fall in 3:03 and let a 5-2 lead slip in the third period and lost to Prairie Heights’ Christian Lewis by fall in 3:50 to take fourth.

McKee had never wrestled before prior to this year. Her brother Gavin, a 2023 Rochester grad, had reached the semistate, but she said Gavin is the only family member she knows that has wrestled.

She said she loves the competition, and she said because wrestling is an individual sport, she has nobody to blame but herself if a match does not go the way she wants.

“Really nerve-wracking but really exciting at the same time,” McKee said of the semistate experience. … I just had to keep reminding myself to keep going, even if it wasn’t the way I wanted it to be.”

Wilson said McKee’s athleticism and wrestling style means that any outcome of any match she is in cannot be taken for granted.

“She has a gift of athleticism that nobody else has,” Wilson said. “She doesn’t know a lot, but she knows enough to get her some wins but also enough to get her into some trouble too. It’s a weird balance: She’s never out of the match because she’s so athletic, but it goes both ways. She can always get pinned because she’s so athletic too. It’s a weird dynamic. … She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know yet.”

The other Lady Zs

Amber Blackburn (130) needed only 41 seconds to pin Columbia City’s Delaney Caldwell in her first-round match before her season ended with a loss by fall to Huntington North’s Aubrey Troutner in 1:58 in the ticket round.

Freshman Kyra Doran also got within one win of state when she defeated Jay County’s Elizabeth Wendel by fall in 35 seconds in the first round. Her season then ended with a loss to fifth-ranked Naima Ghaffar from NorthWood in 2:49 in the ticket round.

Freshman Lexi Haughs (140) received a bye into the round of eight but then lost to Jay County’s Emily Manor, ranked seventh, by fall in 23 seconds in the ticket round.

Rilyn Strasser (110) and Lakodah Clevenger (135) both lost their first round-matches by fall. Strasser lasted 1:31 against Central Noble’s Joslynn Merriman, and Clevenger lost in 2:59 to West Noble’s Jasmine Gibson.

“I was very happy with the way that they wrestled,” Wilson said. “They got some tough draws and some tough girls, and I thought they all battled for the most part. But they weren’t out of the match. They really tried to win, which is hard to do if you don’t think you’re going to win the match. So that’s our next step is to get them to believe in themself even if the girl is ranked or looks like she’s tough, getting them to look past that and understand that I’m good too, and I can win those matches.”

Livian Wilburn

Wilburn, a 115-pound sophomore and the only wrestler representing Caston at the semistate, lost by fall to Carroll (Fort Wayne)’s Cheyanne Welch, ranked 15th, in 2:13 in the first round.

Eriahna Vela

The only area grappler competing at the Penn semistate Friday was Culver senior Eriahna Vela, who did not advance in the 125-pound bracket.

Vela won by fall over Michigan City’s Cheyenne Fitzpatrick by fall in 3:40 before losing her ticket match to West Lafayette’s top-ranked Rose Kaplan by fall in 39 seconds.

ROCHESTER GIRLS WRESTLING SEMISTATE RESULTS: 1. East Noble 131, 2. New Haven 117.5, 3. Columbia City 88, 4. Rochester 59, 5. Northfield 58, 6. Jay County 55, 7. Central Noble 49, 8. North Miami 43, 9. Daleville 41, t-10. Lakeland 39, t-10. Western 39


110 – Rilyn Strasser – DNP, 120 – Kyra Doran – DNP, 125 – Makenna McKee – fourth, 130 – Amer Blackburn – DNP, 135 – Lakodah Clevenger – DNP, 140 – Lexi Haughs – DNP, 145 – Laine Peppler – second, 155 – Grace Hiroms – third


115 – Livian Wilburn – DNP


100 – Kyleigh Honaker (East Noble), 105 – Kynlie Keffer (Daleville), 110 – Julianna Ocampo (New Haven), 115 – Ysabelle Ocampo (New Haven), 120 – Naima Ghaffar (NorthWood), 125 – Nevaeh Wilson (Angola), 130 – Ella Gahl (Northfield), 135 – Katy Vardaman (Homestead), 140 – Naomi Leffers (Central Noble), 145 – Olivia Bohde (New Haven), 155 – Mallory Winner (Jay County), 170 – Heaven Gardner (New Haven), 190 – Michela Clifford (Columbia City), 235 – Vivian Parke (Columbia City)

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