The question is hardly finished before Braxton Siebrandt spits out an answer.
“Chin whip, first period,” the Wisner-Pilger junior says. “That was the difference”
You can’t blame Siebrandt if he wants to get the words out of his mouth. He’s been living with that memory for the last 12 months.
“I always think about that,” he says of his 4-3 loss to Eli Paxton in last year’s state final, and more specifically the move that provided all of Paxton’s scoring. “If I hadn’t gotten in that situation, I definitely could have won that match.”
He gets a shot at redemption Friday night in the semifinals after both took care of business in the opening rounds of the boys state wrestling tournament Thursday at CHI Health Center Omaha.
Third-ranked Siebrandt (41-2) got there first behind an 11-5 win over Jaxon Smith of Elm Creek in the quarterfinals. That came after a first-round pin that Siebrandt spent only 40 seconds on the mat to lock up.
Paxton, a unanimous No. 1 at the weight, wasn’t far behind, working a 6-3 quarterfinal decision over fourth-ranked Reece Kocian, a senior from East Butler.
The defending champion moved to 37-1 this season ahead of the state final rematch one round earlier.
“I wouldn’t have my bracket set up any other way than what it is already,” Paxton said. “I like tough matches. Those are the matches I want.”
Both said they’ll look to be more aggressive than they were a year ago. Each admitted that nerves may have gotten the best of them that day.
“I think last year I was a little psyched out for the finals,” Paxton said.
Added Siebrandt: “Definitely wasn’t ready. Ready this time, though. Ready to give it a good shot.”
Paxton did all of his scoring in that one sequence midway through the first period in the 120-pound championship match.
His takedown and two near-fall points gave him an early lead. A penalty point in the first and a reversal 40 seconds into the second brought it closer.
Paxton was called for stalling with 13 seconds left in the second. Another stalling call would have provided a match-tying point, but Paxton held on, capping a 40-3 junior season with state gold.
“Eli almost always figures out a way to win,” Mullen coach Russ Monette said. “And that’s been his M.O. He’s a gamer.”
Paxton is hoping he doesn’t need the same kind of theatrics that were required the first time around.
“Just need to come off more aggressive,” he said. “Need to wrestle better, wrestle like I know how. Tomorrow I think I need to be tough on bottom and tough on my feet. Just have to go out there and wrestle my match, and should be fine.”
Siebrandt will have his game plan. And a little more experience under the bright lights. He’s banking on a better start in what he knows will be another dogfight.
“He’s definitely a really good wrestler,” Siebrandt said. “It’s just going to be fun.”
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