Champ Dodgers crown quartet of gold medalists

Submitted photo/Lars Underbakke The Fort Dodge wrestling team poses with its hardware after winning the Cliff Keen Independence Invitational on Saturday.

INDEPENDENCE — Statement made.

On paper, No. 2 Fort Dodge looks like a championship contender this season. On the mat, the Dodgers are out to prove it.

During the two-day Cliff Keen Independence Invitational, nationally-ranked Fort Dodge showed off both its talent and depth in crowning four champions and running away with the title.

“This was a good measuring stick for us,” said FDSH head coach Bobby Thompson. “We won the team title had four champs, but we also made a thousand mistakes. This is a great meet to see where we’re at in December, but we know we have a long way to go to make it to where we want to be in February.”

Fort Dodge, which is rated 23rd nationally, accumulated 386 points. Christian Brothers Academy, the No. 24 squad in the country according to preseason polls, was a distant second at 299.5.

Clarion-Goldfield-Dows was fifth with 256.5 points, and Algona finished 19th.

“The kids responded well on day two of the tournament,” Thompson said. “We got a lot of bonus points, and our veterans did what was expected of them.

“They young guys really responded, too. It’s tough to say how young guys will react on December 2 after three straight days of wrestling. But they made the difference.”

Third-ranked freshman Drake Ayala (106), and No. 1 seniors Brody Teske (126), Drew Bennett (132) and Cayd Lara (152) all earned individual championships.

“This was a tough tournament, so it was nice to win it,” Ayala said of his first varsity invitational. “I knew I had to come out and prove myself. It was pretty cool to win the team title. I was a little nervous (in the finals), but not any more than normal. I knew just had to come out and wrestle my style.”

Ayala (7-0), who won a Fargo national championship this past summer at 88 pounds, earned two falls on Saturday and picked up a 12-4 major decision over top-rated (Class 2A) Jarod Kadel of Columbus Junction in the finals.

Kadel was a state runner-up last season. Ayala had three falls and two major decisions in the tournament.

“Drake looked good the last three days,” Thompson said. “He wrestled a good match against (Kadel), who is a bigger and highly-rated 106-pounder. Drake just went out and took care of business.”

Teske (7-0) improved his career mark to 142-0 and climbed ahead of Erik Birnbaum to third on the school’s all-time win list. Teske had two technical falls and a pin on the second day, earning a 19-4 tech fall over Jackson Stauffacher of Scott West in the championship match at 126.

The Penn State University recruit also earned Outstanding Wrestler of the Meet honors.

“Brody is still working on things, but he went out and got the job done,” Thompson said. “He just has to keep building on his skill set and doing what he does.”

Bennett (8-0) ran through a gauntlet of rated opponents, earning a decision over No. 8 Conner Dalton of Des Moines Lincoln in the quarterfinals, a major decision over No. 3 Eli Loyd of Pleasant Valley, and a major decision over fourth-ranked Brady Fritz of South Tama.

The Northern Iowa recruit moved into 13th on the Dodgers’ all-time victory charts at 112 wins versus just seven defeats.

“Drew wrestled well in an outstanding weight class,” Thompson said. “The kid in the finals (Fritz) is a hammer. It was a tough bracket, but Drew was completely dominant.”

Lara (8-0) had a fall in the quarters and picked up a 6-2 decision over top-rated Isaac Judge of South Tama (2A) in the semifinals. The UNI recruit then defeated Smithville’s Alex Rivera 12-8 in the finals. Rivera is a state champion from Missouri.

With his eight victories this season, Lara (136) moves into fourth on Fort Dodge’s win list — right behind Teske.

“152 was stacked,” Thompson said. “In the semis, Cayd had to take out a state champion and then beat a Fargo champion in the finals. Cayd wasn’t at his best after being sick recently, but he took care of business anyway.”

Second-ranked Damond Lockner (145) and No. 8 Kaden Smith (170) both placed third for the Dodgers.

Lockner lost in the semifinals, but came back with wins over sixth-ranked Colton Vest of South Tama and No. 4 Tanner Abbas of Clarion-Goldfield-Dows.

Smith lost to No. 4 Bryce Werdeman (2A) of Lisbon in the semifinals, but earned two decisions to close out the day.

“Damond was in arguably the toughest bracket, and he fought hard,” Thompson said. “Damond is much improved from last year.

“Kaden made a few mistakes, but it’s good to do that and still get third. He’s well on his way.”

Fifth-ranked Drevon Ross (138) and No. 9 Levi Egli (160) were both fourth. Both went 5-2 in the tournament.

“I was very impressed with Levi,” Thompson said. “He looked very good for early in the season. He’ll be dangerous in February.

“Drevon was fourth in another tough bracket. I’m proud of the way he competed.”

Carson Taylor (113) took fifth for the Dodgers. Taylor lost his quarterfinal match, 6-4, to top-ranked Jaymus Wilson of Alburnett (1A), but bounced back with a 10-6 decision over Wilson in the fifth-place match.

Brooks Cowell (113) finished seventh, while Kody Cook (120) was ninth.

“Carson wrestled so well in the tournament,” Thompson said. “He lost to Wilson in a controversial match, then came back and dominated him for fifth place. I was very impressed with his mental attitude and the way he kept attacking.

“Carson and Brooks met up and it was another close match (Taylor won, 5-4). Those guys are going to make each other better when they are battling like that.”

Fort Dodge’s next match is this Thursday at Ankeny.