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Ayala, Taylor earn titles for Dodgers

Fort Dodge wrestling squad places 3rd in 33-team field

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Drake Ayala of Fort Dodge was an individual champion at the Independence Invitational on Saturday.

INDEPENDENCE — Drake Ayala and Carson Taylor picked up where they left off at the Cliff Keen Independence Invitational on Saturday, as Fort Dodge’s two defending state wrestling champions secured individual titles in the 33-team mega tournament.

Ayala, the state’s No. 1 120-pounder, and Taylor, who is No. 2 at 126, barely broke a sweat in their gold medal performances. Their third-ranked (Class 3A) Dodgers were third overall in the final team standings, scoring 316 points to top every program with the exception of Minnesota power Simley (424) and Class 1A No. 2 Lisbon (377).

“We did well overall for December 7,” FDSH head coach Bobby Thompson said. “We’re nowhere close to where we need to be, but that’s the way it should be this early. We really pushed ourselves physically and mentally, which was the whole point of the weekend (after a Thursday home win over No. 5 Ankeny Centennial).

“Now it’s time to get back to the lab and work on what we need to start making gains.”

Ayala went a perfect 6-0, with four pins and a technical fall. He was only pushed in the semifinals — a 5-2 victory over Vincent Robinson of Marian Catholic near Chicago — and stuck Santino Robinson of Christian Brothers College in the championship round in 5:19.

The Dodgers’ junior All-American now has 91 victories in his career. This was the third Independence championship of Ayala’s career in as many tries.

Taylor, who committed to Grand View University this past week, tallied four consecutive pins before posting a 7-5 win in the finals over Bryce Parke of Linn-Mar.

“I don’t think Drake or Carson were overly satisfied with their performances,” Thompson said. “I could tell in their reactions and the body language. But that’s why they’re champions: they’re never satisfied and always looking for ways to get better — always self-critiquing.

“Drake’s only been practicing for a week (after recovering from a broken finger suffered almost two months ago), so I think that has to be taken into consideration. He was still sharp. And Carson did what he needed to do. They were both in control. They just know there are bigger and better things ahead, both performance-wise and tournament-wise.”

A number of other Dodgers placed in the Top-10 at their respective weights. Senior Levi Egli was fourth at 195 pounds, while senior Brandon Mills (145), junior Dreyzon Phillips (138) and junior Lane Cowell (113) were all fifth. Egli went 5-2 overall, as did Mills and Phillips. Cowell was 3-2.

Both freshman Max Bishop (106) and senior Brooks Cowell (132) were 5-1 and placed ninth.

Senior Savion Wheat (160) was eighth at 3-3.

“I really thought Levi shook the rust off in a hurry and looked very solid given he hadn’t seen live action in 18 months (before Thursday),” Thompson said. “He needed this for his confidence and to get back into a rhythm.

“Brandon and Dreyzon were very good in incredibly tough brackets. To see them both get fifth knowing what they were up against at the start — that’s just huge. And Lane battled back to beat some tough kids as well at 13.”

Senior Austin Lee, one of Fort Dodge’s emotional leaders who is ranked at 182, had to take two medical forfeits and placed sixth. A back injury, which initially happened during the football campaign, resurfaced on Saturday.

“Austin’s such a tough kid — he didn’t want to come out,” Thompson said. “But I told him we need him in mid-February, not early December. It just wasn’t worth risking. He needs rest and therapy now for his back. And we’re waiting to see what (a recent) MRI tells us.”

Junior Reco Jolly was 10th at 220 after going 3-2. Junior Sawyer Springer (4-3) was 12th at the same weight.

Sophomore Jake Erickson (4-3) was 12th at 170. Sophomore Ben Egli (3-3 at 152) and senior Colten Munter (2-4 at 285) were also in action.

Algona had a finalist, as Andrew Hamilton reached the 220-pound championship match. The Bulldogs were 14th overall.

Hamilton, who earned a 10-5 decision over Brett Pelfrey of Iowa City West in the quarters and downed New Hampton/Turkey Valley’s Evan Rosonke, fell to Simley’s Bennett Tabor in the finals via fall.

Gavin Meints took fourth at heavyweight for the Bulldogs, with Cole Lewis placing fifth at 195. Hunter Berry was 10th at 152.

Clarion-Goldfield/Dows had three wrestlers place in the Top-10. Tyler Stein was seventh at 113, with Reed Abbas finishing eighth at 145 and Garrett Seaba eighth at 152.

The Cowboys tied for 17th as a squad.

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