/Tapping out on a historic season 
Gabe Hixebaugh during wrestling match. Photo courtesy of UM Athletics.

Tapping out on a historic season 

By Sarah Turner, Sports editor 

The Falcon wrestling team has been making all kinds of history in their first year of competition. 

They’re the first Division II wrestling program in the state of Alabama, have set the highest attendance in Central State Bank Arena this season and they’ve produced Montevallo’s first-ever national champion. 

Graduate student Gabe Hixenbaugh grew up right down the road from Montevallo, a product of Thompson High School, where he had a very successful high school wrestling career. 

After earning multiple state championships, the sport took Hixenbaugh to Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. 

But eventually, he found his way back home. 

“I’ve loved this place since the first day I stepped on campus,” Hixenbaugh said in a press conference on March 19 after his historic final win. 

“I was mainly just looking for a program that aligned with my goals and what I wanted to do,” said Hixenbaugh, “Once I met Ownbey and this opened it was a perfect opportunity for me.” 

“Being able to take criticism and continue to want to learn, I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better athlete, especially for a first year program,” said head coach Daniel Ownbey in the press conference. 

He said that Alabama wrestling holds a special place in his heart, because it’s not a highly recruited state in terms of college wrestling, and that’s a major reason why he wanted to come back to his home state. 

“My goal was to give people hope,” he explained, “like, ‘Hey, you can come to Montevallo, you can win here, you can accomplish your goals here.’” 

Throughout the season, Hixenbaugh dominated almost every match he was in. 

“Obviously I wanted to win a national title, that was my goal coming in,” said Hixenbaugh. 

After winning the Midwest Classic in December and getting ranked number one in his weight class, all of the pieces started falling into place, including qualifying for the national championship at the Super Regional tournament. 

Arriving in Wichita, Kan. on March 13, Hixenbaugh was guaranteed at least one match, but had to be prepared for a total of four matches over the next three days if he continued to advance. 

He was seeded as the number one wrestler in the 133 weight class, and he explained he felt that he almost had a target on his back.  

“It felt like they weren’t really trying to wrestle, they were trying to have a close match,” said Hixenbaugh in the press conference. 

“Going into matches knowing I’m gonna have to do a little bit more and I’m gonna get everyone’s best…it’s definitely a little bit of a challenge,” said Hixenbaugh.   

When he first got to Hartman Arena, he said that he was very nervous. He immediately called one of his friends, who was previously a two-time All-American, to help calm his nerves. 

Hixenbaugh breezed through his first two matches, winning his first 20-5, and the quarterfinals 11-1. 

He faced his toughest competition of the year in the semifinals, pulling away with a gritty 9-7 win, which meant he would advance to the championship match. 

Being on that stage was unlike anything he had ever experienced before, and he realized right before walking out onto the mat just how serious it was, which led to some nerves. 

But after walking out to Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise,” Hixenbaugh was ready.  

“I walked out there, I kinda got poised and I kind of controlled my emotions and realized ‘Alright, it’s just another match, win or lose, I’m still me,’” he said. 

Having the opportunity to be there meant a lot to him, but winning meant even more. 

Hixenbaugh’s parents and girlfriend were able to have a front row seat to the final match of his undefeated season, watching him reach the top of the wrestling world. 

“That was the first time I’ve ever seriously celebrated a win,” explained Hixenbaugh, “I didn’t even premeditate it or have anything I was gonna do, it was just so much emotion.” 

With Hixenbaugh’s final win, Montevallo became the first-ever first-year NCAA wrestling program to produce a national champion.  

Hixenbaugh, Ownbey and assistant coach Michael Land all went to Dave and Buster’s to celebrate afterwards, where Ownbey beat the champ in Hungry Hungry Hippos. 

Hixenbaugh says that there’s two things on his mind for next year: doing it again, and doing it as a team.  

“Winning it once is really hard, but to do it again is probably even a little bit harder,” Hixenbaugh said.  

But he doesn’t want to make the trip alone again. 

“We got the guys to do it,” he said, “but we just need them to buy in now and put their heart and mind into it, and hopefully we get it done.” 

Hixenbaugh’s national title defense will begin in November.

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