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AYALA THE TIGER

Fort Dodge star adds prestigious Super 32 national title to his crowded trophy case

Submitted photo Fort Dodge’s Drake Ayala holds his new Super 32 championship belt as he stands with Sebolt Wrestling Academy Coaches Justin McClintock (left) and TJ Sebolt.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Drake Ayala checked another box from his lofty list of personal goals at the Super 32 Challenge here on Sunday.

The Fort Dodge Senior High superstar earned the 126-pound championship at the prestigious national event, building on the momentum he’d established with a victory earlier this month over the country’s top pound-for-pound wrestler in Texas.

It’s been quite a month for Ayala, the Dodgers’ two-time defending state champion and a University of Iowa recruit. Three weeks ago, Ayala defeated Richard Figueroa of California in the “Who’s No. 1” exhibition event.

At the Super 32 — a tournament he’d participated in annually since seventh grade but never won before — Ayala went a perfect 5-0 as the top seed at 126 and became just the second Iowa prep ever to reach the podium summit.

“It felt great and was exciting,” Ayala said. “You set a goal and work hard to reach it. I’ve had a lot of frustrating moments here, so I had this one circled. But there’s more to come.

“I want to keep doing bigger and better things. Keep pushing. Never settle.”

Facing arguably his most difficult tourney field to date, Ayala put on another clinic. On Sunday alone, he took care of Jack Gioffre of California (12-6), Zeke Seltzer of Indiana (10-9), and University of Minnesota recruit Troy Spratley of Oklahoma (3-2). All three are state champions and ranked nationally.

“I think it was the toughest I’ve seen so far (top to bottom),” Ayala said. “The talent is always insane here. I knew it was going to be a fight with a lot of tight matches. It’s just a matter of having both the skills and the gas tank to get the job done.

“I feel like I learned a lot about myself and have plenty to get better at, though. You can’t be satisfied in any situation, and have to take something away from every match and every tournament, win or lose.”

Ayala defeated Anthony Evanitsky of Pennsylvania in his opener on Saturday, 17-7, then held off Vincent Robinson of Illinois in the round of 16 by a 6-3 final.

As a sophomore, Ayala placed second here in 2018 at 106 pounds. Last year, he broke a bone in his hand and was forced to withdraw.

“I’ve been (entered in the Super 32 Challenge every fall) since seventh grade,” Ayala said. “I was really ready for this, given I’d been close and come up short before.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself just since the summer, and feel like I’ve gotten a lot better both physically and mentally. I think South Dakota in July (losing to University of Northern Iowa recruit Adam Allard in an exhibition match when Ayala bumped up to 132) was eye-opening. It made me take a step back and re-evaluate. I changed some habits and stuff in my personal life to get even more focused.”

An academic all-state honoree who carries a 3.94 overall grade point average, Ayala is a consensus Top-10 national recruit from the class of 2021. He is a two-time Fargo Nationals champion and a USA Wrestling Folkstyle gold medalist as well.

Ayala was a perfect 48-0 in 2020, earning Dan Gable Mr. Wrestler of the Year honors in Iowa last season. He’s reeled off wins in 91 consecutive high school matches.

“The focus is on winning another state title (for the Dodgers) and getting ready for college now,” Ayala said.

Ayala is 136-2 overall at FDSH in three seasons, with his two losses coming against future Hawkeye teammate Cullan Schriever of Mason City. Schriever, now a freshman at the University of Iowa, is the only other Super 32 Challenge champion from Iowa. He captured gold here in 2017 at 106 pounds.

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