From Underdog to Top Dog: Blubaugh Takes National Championship

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After a decade of competition since winning their last national title, the University of Indianapolis wrestling team brought home another one following this 2023-2024 season. The national-qualifying wrestlers on the team competed for the championship, last won in 2011, on March 16, 2024 in Wichita, Kan. according to UIndy Athletics. Redshirt junior Derek Blubaugh was successful in securing the title for the 197-pound weight class after beating fellow competitor Dalton Abney from University of Central Oklahoma, earning him not only national recognition, but also the Outstanding Wrestler award, according to Head Wrestling Coach Jason Warthan.

“… He was announced the outstanding wrestler of the tournament,” Warthan said. “So he, out of all the national champs, the 10 weight classes, he was the one that the coaches voted to be the outstanding wrestler of the tournament.”

Competing in Kansas this year put them in close proximity to University of Central Oklahoma, Warthan said. According to Warthan, the crowd had a lot of Central Oklahoma fans, featuring blow-up images of their wrestlers and signs in the crowd, which made the final match a tough crowd to overcome. However, Warthan said there were many people in the crowd supporting Blubaugh as well.

“It was a hostile crowd that I felt like we had to overcome,” Warthan said. “The crowd was going to be cheering for his opponent, but it was, the rest of the stadium, it was all for Derek. And by the end of it, there were chants, there were people. It just was really cool and a lot of the stadium I think had seen that match so many times, and he was the underdog going into it.”

Photo Contributed by Blaze Lowery Junior Derek Blubaugh standing on the podium with a first place award after securing the title for the 197-pound weight class. He also won the Outstanding Wrestler award of the championship tournament.

The history between Blubaugh and Abney as competitors is one of respect and drive, Blubaugh said. According to UIndy Athletics, Blubaugh has been the national runner-up in his weight class the past two seasons, competing against Abney in the final round both times. Losing to Abney in regionals placed Blubaugh as the No.2 seed going into this national competition behind Abney, the one seed, once more, Warthan said. For Blubaugh, he said he has found a reason to keep working hard through their matches to improve and get better.

“… He’s beaten me a lot more times than I’ve beaten him,” Blubaugh said. “I think he won six or seven times and I’ve beat him twice now. [I] was definitely really happy to get the win over him when it counted the most. It was definitely a great rivalry, definitely fueled me to continue to train hard every day. I’m sure I did the same to him.”

However, Blubaugh said Abney was not his only driving force to get where he is today. Wrestling goes back in the Blubaugh family two generations, and he has competed for the past 16 years, he said. The passion for the sport and the people around him supported him to reach his goals, Blubaugh said.

“I could probably go on for days about people that have influenced me,” Blubaugh said. “My parents have both been super supportive, my girlfriend has been super, my teammates have always had my back. They are teammates that I wouldn’t trade for anybody, [who] would always push me. My coaches in high school were definitely great on pushing me to go to the next level and now, being under Warthan—all the coaching staff—they’ve always wanted the best for me. That’s definitely aided my path in the direction that I wanted to go in ways that I couldn’t even put it into words.”

Beyond his national title, however, Blubaugh has shown leadership on and off the mat, Warthan said. Winning various departmental awards and mental attitude awards, Warthan said Blubaugh is an example to everyone on the team, showing them that it is possible to attain and strive for a national title. Blubaugh said he hopes his success brings a fire to the team and that he can be the motivator and role model he strives to be.

“All the sportsmanship awards … [and] mental attitude awards, as much as it might be of a surprise, mean more to me than probably anything else,” Blubaugh said. “Being a great wrestler is one thing, to have success on the mat, but I think what matters more is who you are off the mat. And that’s something that I definitely have always prided myself on and always strive to continue to hold that sort of integrity.”

For Warthan, he said it was clear that Blubaugh was deserving of the mental attitude award and all the success he has seen throughout his career. Beyond Blubaugh’s talent, Warthan said his work ethic, mindset, approach to competition and practice are things he has worked very hard for, deserving all the recognition he has received. Being a redshirt junior, Blubaugh has one more season to compete.

“[I am] thankful for the opportunity to compete and thankful for everyone that I’ve been around,” Blubaugh said. “And I’m looking forward to my future opportunities and to continue the sport that I love for one more year.”

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