SYRACUSE – He’s humble enough that it comes across how he means it. But the sentiment that Wawasee sophomore Braxton Alexander left the IHSAA Wrestling State Finals with last weekend was simple.
The job was left undone.
Alexander didn’t go to the wrestling finals with the notion that just working in front of a record crowd of over 12,000 would be a cool experience. Alexander went to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to win. And left with two losses. For the ultra-driven Alexander, that wasn’t good enough.
“It’s a big meet having 10,000 people up in the stands watching you, but in your head, you need to focus on your match, sometimes you have to zone out and forget about everybody up there,” Alexander said. “It’s a big thing and a big accomplishment for a lot of people, but I just feel like I should have placed higher on that podium.”
Alexander went 2-2 in the state bracket at 120 pounds, getting one of those wins in the ultra-important Friday night matchup. No win, no Saturday, and Alexander got that win against Homestead senior Blaigh Rushing in a 3-0 decision. Alexander’s title hopes were dashed out of the gate Saturday, where eventual weight class champion Cayden Rooks of Columbus East won in a 12-3 major decision. But a Saturday appearance is a three-match guarantee, and Alexander came back to beat Roncalli’s Tyce Freije in a 5-4 decision before wrapping up in a third matchup against Elkhart Memorial’s Christian Mejia.
Having seen Mejia in both the Wawasee-Memorial team dual and at the Northern Lakes Conference championship match, Alexander had also spent part of his weekend sparring with Mejia during warmups. The familiarity was notable to Alexander, who mentioned the extra work with Mejia, along with a 5-2 loss to the Memorial junior in the fifth-place matchup, only adds more jet fuel to the fire for Alexander’s junior season. Mejia was 3-0 against Alexander during the season.
“We warmed up Friday night and Saturday morning together, neither one of us had a partner,” Alexander said. “Christian asked if I would warm up with him, and I thought man, if I get this kid, I can get in a double and finish him. But during the match I didn’t get in, and he was really good defensively.”
Alexander would finish his stellar season 42-6 overall, the conference runner-up, the class champion in both the sectional and regional tournaments, and runner-up at semi-state.
The success Alexander had should be a boon for the Wawasee program in general, which had a revival season of sorts. The Warriors were 4-3 in the NLC, and while Alexander couldn’t figure out Mejia, the Warriors figured out the Chargers for a team win that broke over a decade-long losing streak to Memorial. Wawasee went 21-7 overall in team duals, which was one win short of a school record for wins, set in 2010-11 when the program won its last sectional team title.
“A lot of the guys were down there, now they are talking with an emphasis on wrestling all season,” said Wawasee head coach Frank Bumgardner. “They expect to be there themselves. One of us was able to do this, a Wawasee wrestler was able to do this. They haven’t been around when Wawasee was consistently able to do this. This is new territory for this new era. Let’s not kid ourselves, there is a ton of history in this program. Walk the halls, their pictures are everywhere.
“It’s expected that if you are part of this program, you are expected to be successful. And that’s not just winning on the wrestling mat, but that’s also performing in the classroom and in the community. It’s not a surprise when that happens, those things we expect from the kids in this program.”