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Article: #MondayMatness: Returning state placer Alexander helps resurgent Wawasee to 2A IHSWCA State Duals title


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By STEVE KRAH
stvkrh905@gmail.com

“Warrior Tough” was on display in the Summit City.

Years of effort were rewarded when Wawasee climbed to the peak that is the Class 2A championship at the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Team State Duals.

The Warriors beat Franklin County 54-19, Bellmont 49-25, North Montgomery 31-28 and Garrett 37-33 for the right to hoist the trophy Saturday, Dec. 23 at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.

“This has been a long time building,” says Frank Bumgardner, Wawasee’s third-year head coach of the program’s resurgence and his 2017-18 team’s qualifying for the annual IHSWCA event. “It’s a culmination of a lot of effort over a lot of years.

“We’re all on same path. When you have that uniformity, it’s inevitable that good things are going to happen.”

Bumgardner, who was the head coach at alma mater Whitko High School for five seasons before coming to Wawasee, and the other coaches (Jesse Espinoza, Jamie Salazar, Dillon Whitacre, Matt Elvidge, Darrell Carr at the high school level) in the program have the Warriors being physical while having fun.

“We understand that different people come with different personalities,” says Bumgardner, who counts 80 to 100 kids in Grades K-12 that also compete in either the Wawasee Wrestling Club for beginners or Viper Wrestling Club for the advanced and elite. “Not everyone is going to embrace every style to the furthest degree. We do what the kid does best, we score points and have fun.”

Fun is essential.

“When you have fun, you look forward to coming back,” says Bumgardner, who is a seventh grade math teacher at Wawasee. “You look forward to getting better.

“It’s like they say at Ohio State — Positivity Infinity. The better you can do that, the better life you’re going to have.”

Last year, the Warriors were just seven points shy of automatic qualification for the State Duals without the coaches vote and “7” became the rally cry.

“We knew we were capable of it,” says Bumgardner. “The kids have done wonderful job of doing that. The community is excited.

“We’re looking to bring the momentum back to the program so we can continue to build well beyond this year.”

Five Wawasee wrestlers — senior Elisha Tipping (285 pounds), juniors Braxton Alexander (126) and Geremia Brooks (132), sophomore Garrett Stuckman (138) and freshman Jace Alexander (106)— enjoyed 4-0 days at the 2017 State Duals.

“A lot of us on the team now started when we were young,” says Braxton Alexander, who placed sixth at 120 at the 2017 IHSAA State Finals. “Just about all on the team wrestled for at least five years.

“We put too much work into it to be bad.”

Bumgardner has witnessed a change in Braxton — the older brother of Jace — that has made him an even better grappler.

“He’s willing to take more risks,” says Bumgardner of Braxton. “He’s attempting to score more points and dictating were the action goes.

“He would definitely look to score points before. He was such a good scrambler, he was consistently catching people in big moves. He is developing an offense that is consistent.”

Braxton has grown about three inches since last season to 5-foot-7 and turned from a counter-offensive wrestler to an attacker.

“Last year, I didn’t have a shot too often,” says Alexander of his 42-6 sophomore season. “I was defensive. Now, I’m pushing the pace and pulling the trigger more often.”

He can hear Bumgardner’s words echo as he goes through a match.

“‘As long as you’re moving and pushing the pace, no one can keep up with you,’” Alexander of his head coach’s message.

Braxton is constantly pushing workout partner Stuckman and Garrett returns the favor.

“We scramble more often,” says Braxton. “On the mat, we know what to do and how to capitalize on a mistake.”

To stay in shape for wrestling, Braxton is a member of the Wawasee cross country and track and field teams. His best 5K cross country time is 17:10. He runs the open 800, 3200 relay and does the pole vault in the spring.

Last summer, he sharpened his wrestling skills in folkstyle tournaments in New Jersey, Virginia, Michigan and Iowa.

Braxton and Jace are the two oldest of four children in a single-parent household. Mother Jaclyn also has seventh grader Landen (who also wrestles in the spring and summer) and third grader Kenadee.

A building trades student at Wawasee, Braxton would like to have his own construction business someday.

Right now, he’s helping to build the Warriors back into wrestling power to be reckoned with.

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