COLUMBIA— A blank stare adorned the face of Rock Bridge’s Sam Crane as he stood in the tunnel in Mizzou Arena and awaited his match on Friday.
The 125-pound Crane breathed deeply and exhaled.
"I'm pretty nervous before I go out," he said.
His actions betray his words: Crane's outward appearance shows more the stare of a seasoned pro rather than nervous freshman.
He paced about the tunnel, listening as his coaches give him final pieces of advice and encouragement before his match.
On the mat, Crane is home. He creates takedowns quickly, strings together fakes and bumps. Even on the bottom, Crane is comfortable, exploding out of his position to bring the match back to the feet.
In the semi-finals of the 2011 Class 4 MSHSAA Wrestling Championship, the freshman Crane won a 12-2 majority decision against Lindbergh junior Tom Korenak, putting him in position to take home a state championship.
Aside from a third round reversal by Korenak, who sported a face guard during the semi-final matchup, Crane was completely in control of the match.
“(The mask) was intimidating at first,” Crane said. “But after a bit I just kind of ignored it and wrestled my match.”
At the end of the match, Crane is profusely sweating, shaking and slurring words in the depths of Mizzou Arena. The win is intoxicating, and it takes a moment or two for Crane to regain complete composure. But through it all, a big smile remains on his face.
"I'm feeling really good," he said. "Glad to have made it to the finals."
Crane now has the chance to become only the seventh freshman to win state in Class 4 competition. Rock Bridge coach Travis Craig said that while Crane and fellow freshman Quinn Smith, a 103-pounder who lost a 14-2 majority decision on Thursday, are incredibly talented, they are a rarity.
"We still need to develop as a team in the off-season," Craig said. "I talk to and teach Sam much differently than I might other wrestlers."
Craig has helped keep Crane relaxed during his first state tournament; Crane said his coaches joke with him to keep him calm. While his young wrestlers are still overcoming their nerves, Craig said he isn’t worrying anymore.
“I was much more stressed at districts to be honest,” Craig said. “After districts, there is not much for me to tell these guys except go out and do what you’ve done all year.”
Sam Crane is not the only Crane to place at state. Taylor Crane, his older brother, was a three-time state placer at Rock Bridge. Sam Crane, though, is quick to point out that his older brother did not place in his freshman year, like he is poised to do. Sam Crane admits to rubbing it in his brother’s face occasionally, but not too often.
“He helps me out,” Sam Crane said of his brother. “He’s taught me a lot, and (getting to the finals) was our goal this season.”
Sam Crane (45-2) faces No. 1 125-pound wrestler in Class 4, Park Hill senior Bricker Dixon (49-3) on Saturday.