Austin Vanderford, a 2008 graduate of Ninilchik school, won the wrestling championship at 184 pounds at the NAIA National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday.
Vanderford, a senior at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore., notched an 8-0 major decision over Campbellsville’s Allen Scruggs to earn the title.
Vanderford, who won two individual titles at Ninilchik, came into the championships ranked fourth. Scruggs was fifth.
“I really didn’t feel like I deserved that ranking,” Vanderford said Sunday via cellphone. “I believed my work throughout the season would get me the tournament win.
“I really feel like I went above and beyond anyone in the weight class with my training. I didn’t think I could be denied.”
Vanderford fought through pain to get his title. A month and a half before the championships, Vanderford injured his lateral collateral ligament, a thin band of tissue running along the outside of the knee.
He said that he thinks he tore that ligament in the first round of the championships.
“I was afraid it would slow me down, and it hurt in certain positions, but the training staff was awesome,” Vanderford said.
His previous best at the championships was fourth last year as a junior, so Vanderford said there was no way he was going to let pain derail him this year.
Vanderford thanked members of the Southern Oregon staff, especially assistant Joel Gibson, with helping him make the transition from a wrestler from a small Alaska fishing village to a national champion.
“I’ve talked to all of the guys on our team,” Vanderford said. “They always tell me about their workout rooms in high school.
“I never really had a solid workout partner in high school. I always had to depend on my own work ethic to get stuff done.”
Vanderford said the day was made even better because his roommate and workout partner, junior Mitchell Lofstedt, won the title at 125.
“It’s special that both he and I won on the same night,” he said.
Vanderford is a health and physical education major. He will now work on finishing up his degree.
“I don’t feel like I’m done competing yet,” Vanderford said. “I still have a few options open right now, and I’m probably going to pursue one of those.”