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March 27, 2013

THB Wrestler of the Year: Driven Blanton rises to the top

ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — It took Luke Blanton a little more than a week to get over the only loss of his senior season.

The Alexandria star worked nonstop for nearly a year to chase down a state championship. When that quest ended Feb. 16 with a 12-7 loss against Mishawaka’s Tommy Forte in the 138-pound state finals, all that emotion came pouring out.

Blanton sat motionless on a side mat for long minutes after his opponent’s hand was raised, and he later gave a heartfelt tearful interview.

It’s unlikely Blanton ever truly will put the last match of his storied high school career behind him, but in the month-plus since he left the state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse he has found a healthy perspective.

“After about the first week, I started looking more positively at it,” Blanton said. “I had a heck of a run. There’s no negative. It’s all positive. I just really enjoyed my time.”

After finishing in fourth place as a 132-pounder in 2012 — and ending his season with a loss to Forte in Indianapolis — Blanton devoted his considerable work ethic toward standing on top of the podium this year.

His effort was more than admirable. It was historic.

And it was more than enough to earn him the honor as The Herald Bulletin’s 2013 Wrestler of the Year.

Blanton won his first 51 matches, claiming titles in the Madison County tournament, the sectional, the regional and the semistate on his way to the state finals. With three more wins in Indianapolis, Blanton became the first wrestler in Alexandria history to wrestle under the lights in a state championship match.

It’s a memory that clearly will last a lifetime.

“I felt like I was representing my school, my community, the county, the sectional, the regional, the semistate,” Blanton said. “It was just an awesome feeling, just being under the lights. I’ve never felt something like that before. It was just awesome.”

The loss to Forte only dulled those emotions for awhile.

At Tigers head coach Jack Grimaldi’s urging, Blanton took a two-week break from the mat. The rest healed his battered body and cleared his cluttered mind.

And he returned earlier this month with renewed purpose.

Blanton will wrestle at the Senior Nationals from April 4 to April 7 in Virginia Beach, Va. He chose that event over a similar tournament in Fargo, N.D., because it allows him to stick with the folkstyle matches of high school and college competition.

His familiar work ethic is back in full effect. He’s been on the mat four or five days a week all month, and he said he’ll likely increase his workouts as the tournament approaches.

He’s also got a familiar partner by his side, longtime Alexandria teammate Lincoln Kyle.

“We still push each other,” Blanton said. “We work very well together. I’m blessed to have him as a partner.”

When he’s done in Virginia, Blanton’s intense focus will turn to Bloomington. He’ll wrestle next fall at Indiana University, and he spent much of last week watching the Hoosiers compete on the mat in the NCAA tournament.

His goals, predictably, are high.

Blanton hopes to make the varsity roster as a freshman, no easy feat in a sport where redshirt seasons are routine, then set his sights on Big Ten and national championships.

And he’ll chase after it all with the same dogged determination that marked his career at Alexandria.

“It’s gonna be fun to get another goal and just work like hell for it for four years,” Blanton said.

If the result is anywhere near the career he carved out with the Tigers, it’ll be a memorable four years indeed.

“He definitely made history at Alexandria,” Grimaldi said in Indianapolis after the state finals. “He’s going to be a tough act to follow.”

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