COLUMBIA — Rock Bridge's Sam Crane is the underdog, the freshman, the newcomer. Park Hill’s Bricker Dixon is a state-champion senior looking to end his career on top.
The Class 4 125-pound state wrestling championship match Saturday at Mizzou Arena began with Dixon slamming Crane to the mat three times. Each loud thud of Crane’s body against the mat seemed to send the same message: "Welcome to the finals."
Crane lost his first state championship match 3-1, but after the match Crane did not sprint off the mat in disappointment. He shook hands with the Park Hill coaches and then walked over to the Rock Bridge corner.
“Immediately after the match, he started talking to me,” Rock Bridge coach Travis Craig said. “He said, ‘I need to get better on this for next year.’ ”
Before the title match, Crane paced restlessly, shaking out his arms and bouncing on the balls of his feet to warm up. He said he was thinking about what he needed to do to win.
While it did not turn out the way he had hoped, Crane said he was not deterred by the loss.
“I knew that I wouldn’t be bent out of shape after a championship loss my freshman year,” Crane said.
Crane said he is focused on next year and determined to return to the state tournament. Teammate and fellow freshman Quinn Smith, who finished fifth in the 103-pound weight class, said they will be working tirelessly over the next year to build upon this season's successes.
“There is a little pressure to make sure these guys improve,” Craig said. “But they’re motivated, and the hardest thing sometimes is to get a kid motivated to do well. These guys don’t need me for that; they work hard on their own.”
Crane said he knows that he will see Smith over the summer during training. They will push each other to be better, to exceed the high expectations put upon them as freshmen.
But that is in the future. At the moment, Crane only has one thing on his mind when he returns home after the tournament.
“I want a big cheeseburger,” Crane said. “I haven’t had one all season, and my mom makes some good cheeseburgers.”