Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Brooks Cowell of Fort Dodge wrestles in the finals at 126 pounds during a Class 3A district meet on Saturday in the Dodger gym. For more photos, please visit CU.messengernews.net

District wrestling may be about earning individual state berths, but Fort Dodge remains all about the team.

The Dodgers will defend their traditional state title with nine contenders in the mix. They crowned six district champs, and three more pushed through as runner-ups.

“Our togetherness is the backbone of our program,” said FDSH head coach Bobby Thompson. “We are a family first. That started during my time with (former head coach) Don Miller, and moved on through Hans Goetsch and Ed Birnbaum. We still preach that today.

“Districts is always a bittersweet day. You have guys make it, but you feel bad for the guys who don’t — especially when it’s in front of your home crowd.”

Sophomores Lane Cowell (106) and Drake Ayala (113), juniors Carson Taylor (120) and Brooks Cowell (126), and seniors Drevon Ross (138) and Logan Finowski (285) all earned gold at their respective weights.

Sophomores Dreyzon Phillips (132) and Kody Cook (145) advanced as silver medalists, and junior Savion Wheat (160) won his wrestleback match to advance.

Junior Austin Lee (182) and senior Triston Licht (195) were third, while senior Kaden Smith (170) finished fourth and freshman Jake Erickson (152) was fifth.

Second-ranked Drevon Ross (25-6) will make his third straight trip, searching for his third medal. Ross, who was sixth a year ago, had a quick trip in the finals, earning a fall in 55 seconds over Sioux City North’s Ethan Sorenson. He also had a fall in the semifinals.

“It’s going to be fun in my senior year to be going down with my teammates,” Ross said. “I will compete my hardest and try to climb the podium.”

Thompson has been impressed with the way Ross has attacked down the stretch.

“His mentality and intensity has really picked up,” Thompson said. “He’s gotten the job done and has taken care of business. I see that spark in his eyes.”

Top-ranked and unbeaten Drake Ayala (37-0), who now has 81 career victories in less than two full seasons, had a fall in 13 seconds and earned a tech fall in 4:05 over Jackson Bresson of Ankeny Centennial in the finals.

“It feels good to go back — now I just want to do better than last year,” Ayala said. “I was just trying to fine-tune some things and work on the stuff that isn’t my strong suit.”

Fourth-ranked Carson Taylor (34-5), who was fourth a year ago, had a fall in 1:03 of the semifinals and an 8-0 major decision over Nick Walters of Sioux City North in the finals.

“Drake has shown a great growth mindset,” Thompson said. “His work ethic and drive is similar to Brody Teske. He just gets better each time.

“Carson wrestled tough in what I thought was one of the hardest brackets. He dominated and destroyed each opponent. He just goes and goes. I don’t think there are many wrestlers out there who can go a full six minutes with him.”

Ninth-ranked Brooks Cowell (30-11) will be back at state for the first time since his freshman season. He will be joined by his eighth-ranked brother, Lane Cowell (31-8), who is making his first trip.

Brooks had a fall in the semifinals and a 7-5 decision over Noah Blubaugh of Ankeny Centennial in the finals.

“It’s fun to be able to go to state,” Brooks said. “I’m disappointed that my best friend (fellow junior Austin Lee) didn’t make it, though.”

Lane Cowell beat Ankeny Centennial’s Jackson Helmkamp, the son of Fort Dodge graduate Brent Helmkamp, 4-2 in the finals.

“It was big for both Lane and Brooks to advance,” Thompson said. “Brooks was there two years ago. I hope to see both of them on the podium.”

Senior Logan Finowski (19-20), who was a state qualifier last year, pinned LeMars’ Matthew Sauer in 1:05 of the heavyweight semifinals. Finowski then earned some redemption in his championship match against Storm Lake’s Kali Shannon, earning a 6-2 decision.

“It means a lot to qualify in my senior year,” Finowski said. “I wanted to beat the guy in the finals, cause that was the kid that knocked my tooth out at the Don Miller Invitational (in December).”

“Logan battled hard in both matches,” Thompson said. “He is pretty confident right now in his last hurrah.”

Phillips (29-16) cruised to the championship match with a fall in 58 seconds and a 10-4 decision over Storm Lake’s Bradley Brown (33-7), who was ranked earlier in the year. Phillips lost to top-ranked Ben Monroe (37-1) of Ankeny Centennial and advanced by rule.

“It’s cool to be going to state,” Phillips said. “You only have four chances, so you have to make the most of it.

“It makes my heart hurt when my other teammates didn’t make it, though.”

Cook (22-16) was nearly crowned a district champion after having fourth-ranked Eric Owens’ (34-4) on his back in a pinning predicament, but the Centennial wrestler got out of the situation and earned an 11-7 decision.

“I thought I had it (a pin in the finals),” Cook said. “I tried to make a move late to get the win, but he countered.”

Cook had a fall in the quarterfinals and a decision in the semis. He advanced by rule.

“It’s awesome to see Kody make it down,” Thompson said. “He had a big match in the semifinals, then battled in the finals.”

Wheat (27-15) won an 8-5 decision in the quarterfinals, but lost 9-2 in the semis. He earned a 17-5 major decision in the consolation match, then had to face top seeded Kole Wiegert of Storm Lake — who was upset earlier — to advance to state.

The Dodger junior recorded a 9-6 decision to advance.

“My coaches told me to go out and wrestle for six full minutes (in the wrestleback match),” Wheat said. “After losing that first match, I wanted to come back and make it to state.”

Thompson was pleased to see the fire and sense of urgency from his qualifiers.

“Dreyzon wrestled awesome,” Thompson said. “He beat a senior from Storm Lake; that just shows how far he’s come. Savion wrestled a tough match against a quality kid.

“I’m impressed with how hard we competed. Our crowd and the fan support is what you need in tight matches … you saw that all day.”

Lee (18-10) reached the semifinals, losing to fourth-ranked Nic Leo of Ankeny Centennial after a fall in the quarterfinals. He bounced back with a 9-4 decision, but suffered a loss in a hard-fought match to third-ranked Taner Harvey of Boone in the qualifying match, 5-3.

Licht (10-6) lost in the semifinals to Aaron Ungs of Storm Lake, but bounced back with a fall in the third-place match. Ungs lost in the championship, so there was no wrestleback.

Smith earned a major decision in the quarterfinals, then lost a 2-1 contest to LeMars Colton Hoag. The senior, who has been struggling with a shoulder injury, suffered a 9-2 setback in the third-place match.

Erickson (3-3), a freshman, picked up a fall in 5:05 of his fifth-place match against Riliegh Belt of Sioux City West.