INDIANAPOLIS — Braxton Alexander didn’t get to close his high school career with a win, but then, very few wrestlers ever do.
A runner-up finish after making the first state title match appearance by any Wawasee wrestler in two decades was still a pretty memorable experience, though. And no one could deny it was an impressive performance.
“I feel good about the placement. Not exactly where I wanted to be, but he’s a great wrestler. We wrestled each other growing up, and he’s tough,” said Alexander following his 9-2 championship loss to Columbus East’s Cayden Rooks. “I’m happy with second, but first is nice, too.”
Alexander’s path to the finals at 138 pounds began with a third-period pinfall of Centerville’s Gabe Phillips on Friday night. He backed it up with a 5-3 decision over Avon’s Jaden Reynolds and a convincing, 7-1 defeat of Roncalli’s Tyce Freije Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Trailing 5-1 after two periods, Alexander was still within striking distance of Rooks, but an early reversal in the period and a late takedown gave the Columbus East senior his second state title.
Braxton, younger brother Jace and cousin Geremia Brooks made the state finals a family affair, and all landed on the podium in Indianapolis Saturday. Braxton finished second at 138, Brooks was third at 132, and Jace placed sixth at 120 pounds. Together the trio earned Wawasee enough points for a 12th-place team finish at the state meet.
“Not many teams get everybody on the podium that they bring. We had a phenomenal performance this weekend over the four matches that they all wrestled. I couldn’t really ask for much more out of any of them,” said Wawasee head coach Frank Bumgardner.
Brooks opened the tournament with a 5-3 sudden victory over Evansville Mater Dei’s Clay Egli Friday, then cruised to the 132-pound semis via 11-3 major decision over North Montgomery’s Seth Johnson, where a narrow, 3-2 loss to Avon’s Asa Garcia knocked him out of the winners bracket following an early Garcia takedown. Garcia went on to pin Roncalli’s Alec Viduya in the finals for this third — yes, third — state championship.
Brooks salvaged a third-place finish avenging one of only two losses this year opposite Jimtown’s Mathew Gimson, again falling behind after an early takedown but tying it up at 3-3 with a takedown of his own roughly 30 seconds into the final period. Brooks almost immediately cut Gimson loose, then worked his way behind him and scored another takedown with just seven seconds remaining to clinch a 5-4 decision.
“It was alright to finish at third. I got seventh last year so it was definitely an improvement. I wanted to be on top, fell two places short of that. I’m happy, though, that I got to wrestle Matt Gimson. He’s a very talented kid,” said Brooks.
“Last time we wrestled, I had three takedowns in the third period because he was tired, and I wasn’t. I’ve got a cold right now so my gas tank isn’t as strong as it usually is, but I figured ‘This is it. I’m either going to win or lose this match. If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose.’ I didn’t care that much. I cut him, I let him up, and I just attacked and went at him as hard as I could. Ended up getting the two takedown there at the end, which was big.”
Jace wound up in sixth place in the 120-pound standings, meanwhile, winning his opener with a third-period pinfall of Norwell’s Kade Zadylak, then suffering a pinfall loss to Roncalli’s Brayden Lowery in the quarters. He wrestled back with a 7-0 blanking of Culver Military’s William Finnearty but ultimately came up short to Crown Point’s Riley Bettich in their match for fifth place, a Bettich takedown midway through the third period bringing the margin to its 3-1 final.
Like cousin Brooks, Jace was making his second straight appearance at the state finals following an unranked finish as a 106-pound freshman. Ironically, his sixth place ranking Saturday was also the finish older brother Braxton earned in his first go-round at state as a sophomore.
“It’s really exciting beating the people that beat me in the past, just wrestling the same guys and the best competition,” said Jace.
“Jace has done great today. Jace has had some really good competition. He just really showed out today,” said Braxton. “Even the matches he lost, he wrestled phenomenal. You can’t even be mad at the placement because he wrestled like a champ today.”
Each of the Warriors trio earned not only a top eight finish and a trip to the podium, but each also outwrestled his Indianamat.com ranking heading into the tourney. And of course the experience of going together as a family after a lifetime of wrestling together made the experience of the big meet all that much sweeter.
“I feel like there’s not very many families that are tighter than us around here. Cousin and brothers, we’ve all grown up together. We lived together growing up, always beating each other up, and I think all of us beating each other up and pushing each other our whole lives has kind of gotten all three of us to where we are today. A lot of people don’t have that,” said Braxton.
“It’s awesome. My family is all here. A bunch of my friends from all over came to support. A bunch of my wrestling friends are here,” said Brooks.
“Just being here with everybody… it’s an amazing feeling to be able to stand on the podium with your family.”
A strong contingent of Wawasee faithful was present to watch the Warriors’ three state finalists over the weekend in Indianapolis and was still among the crowd of 11,986 at the finals at Bankers Life. It was a nice sendoff for the trio and a good bookend to a year that saw Wawasee earn a second straight sectional title, a runner-up regional finish and send three wrestlers to state for the second time in a row.
“I want to thank our community. They put on a phenomenal send-off for us. A great crowd. So we really felt a lot of support,” said Bumgardner. “I want to thank all of our coaching staff. They’ve done an outstanding job. I want to thank our club coaches, our club organizations, all of our community, parents, families — outstanding support. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
While Wawasee’s wrestlers closed out the season, NorthWood 182-pounder Jake Lone also earned himself a sixth-place finish at Saturday’s state finals.
Lone collected a 5-2 decision over Fishers’ Jon Farrell in Friday’s opening round, but was shut out in his quarterfinal with Avon’s Carson Brewer via 9-0 major decision. Lone bounced back fast in the wrestle back, pinning Oak Hill’s Bradley Rosman in just 45 seconds. But he couldn’t find any offense in an evenly-matched fifth-place match with Jay County’s Mason Winner, and a third-period escape by Winner wound up making the difference.
It was Lone’s second straight state appointment and an improvement from last year’s eighth place finish at 170 pounds as a sophomore.