Headed to the Well
From the time they were little kids, Drake Ayala, Drezyon Phillips, Lane Cowell and Kody Cook have spent a lot of time together on and off the mat.
The senior foursome has earned a lot of state points and seven state medals through the first three years of their varsity careers. And in their final time in the Dodger gym on Saturday, the quartet punched four tickets to Wells Fargo Arena.
The group will be joined by five other teammates, as the fourth-ranked Dodgers will be nine strong in Des Moines.
“I’m very proud of this group,” Thompson said. “On paper, maybe we get six in, but they came out and exceeded expectations. They have bonded well together and the community has surrounded them. I think everyone is a little spoiled (by the standard FDSH has established). A lot of schools only get one or two guys. We are bringing eight or nine or more every time.
“That’s great for the program and this community.”
Freshman Dru Ayala (106) and sophomore Max Bishop (113) earned trips as district champions. Freshman Damarion Ross (138), junior Ben Egli (182) and senior Matt Surles-Davis (170) advanced as runner-ups.
Ayala (28-1), Phillips (22-4) and Cook (23-3) were champions. Cowell (25-4) was a silver medalist.
“Drake has been impressive. We are watching history happen,'” Thompson said. “He’s been a true program captain and has scored a lot of points for us through the years.
“Dreyzon has always been determined. He’s set high goals and has improved each time out at the state tournament.”
The senior quartet finished 9-1 on the day with six falls, a major decision and two decisions between them.
“Kody wasn’t varsity at first (as a freshman), but has been a crucial component for us since he (joined the lineup),” Thompson said. “He is a two-time state qualifier and a medalist, and the best is yet to come.”
Ayala, who is ranked No. 1 in the nation and the top-rated wrestler at 126, bumped up to compete at 132 for the 2021 postseason. Ayala moved his career record to 164-3 with two falls on Saturday. He pinned Ankeny’s Carter Davis in 1:04 of the finals.
“It was crazy walking off the mat, knowing it was the last time I would wrestle in the Dodger gym,” Ayala said. “This is the last chapter of my high school career, but I’m excited to be going again (to state) with my friends and family.
“We’ve been going to state together (as a foursome) since we were sophomores. I’m excited for them, and know they are capable of big things.”
Phillips, ranked third at 145 pounds, had three falls — all in the first period. He pinned Sioux City West’s Ethan Emmick in 1:37 of the finals. The three-time state qualifier and defending state runner-up has 92 career victories.
“It’s pretty fun, but it’s also bitter sweet,” Phillips said. “It’s the last time I will wrestle in this gym.
“We (seniors) are like a train that gets going together and builds momentum. We feed off of each other.”
Fifth-ranked Cook picked up two victories at 160, earning a 7-2 decision over Spencer’s Calvin Tighe for the championship to earn his third trip to state.
“It feels great to be going with nine guys,” Cook said. “The seniors have been through a lot. We’ve built trust and a good friendship.”
Cowell, who is sitting at 97 career victories, lost a 7-2 decision to Ankeny’s top-ranked Trever Anderson. Cowell, ranked fourth at 120, had a major decision in the semifinals and advanced by rule.
“Lane will see him (Anderson) again in the semifinals,” Thompson said. “Lane has been a strong competitor for four years.”
Cowell was seventh at the state tournament a year ago and fourth as a sophomore.
“We do have a really tight bond with each other,” Cowell said of the seniors. “We’ve been wrestling with each other for a long time and not only that, we’re also all best friends.
“They got my back 100 percent of the time and I got their back 100 percent of the time and they all know that.”
Bishop (18-2) went 2-0, earning a decision over FNU Maihan of Ankeny in the finals. Bishop was a state qualifier a year ago for the Dodgers.
“It means a lot, going to state again,” Bishop said. “I don’t just want to go just to be down there, though. I want go in and win it.”
Dru Ayala (25-4) earned a fall in the semifinals and a 19-7 major decision over Ben Hansen of Ankeny in the championship.
“It feels good to be going to state,” Dru said. “I get to go with my brother in his final time and these seniors, which means a lot.”
Ross (19-13), a freshman, lost in the finals to Ankeny’s Jace Anderson. Ross had a major decision to go along with a decision. He advanced by rule.
Egli (18-8) advanced by rule after losing to Ankeny’s Cade Bennethum by fall in the finals. He picked up a decision in his first match.
“Dru was dominant at a stacked 106,” Thompson said. “Max has been wrestling well all year and will be seeded high down at the state tournament. Damarion has done a great job as a freshman.
“Ben has been learning in his first year on varsity, and just has to clean a few things up. It’s nice to see him get a shot at state.”
Senior Matt Surles-Davis (9-16), who has been wrestling for two years, put the Dodger faithful in a frenzy after winning his wrestleback match. Surles-Davis earned the state berth with a 10-7 decision over Storm Lake’s Eddy Tovar.
Surles-Davis lost in the finals to Ankeny’s Nate Nessa by a 4-0 count.
“Going out there, I felt like I had nothing to lose,” Surles-Davis said. “This year I’ve been working out with Dreyzon especially, and he’s helped me get better.
“It’s just an amazing feeling — like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”
Thompson was excited for the senior.
“Matt had six wins coming in, and won three times (on Saturday),” Thompson said. “He did a heck of a job and has worked to get better all year.”
Junior Pry’Shayn Mosley (8-15), who is in his first year of wrestling, nearly reached the state tournament. Mosley lost a 5-3 sudden victory match to Victor Bird of Sioux City East.
Mosley fell to William Hinrichs of Ankeny in the finals.
Senior Carter Forbes (6-10), freshman Cal Hartman (15-16) and sophomore Alex Read (15-16) placed fourth. Sophomore Keaton Nichols (13-17) was fifth.
“I’m proud of all of these guys,” Thompson said. “They wrestled their hearts out. I’m disappointed for those who didn’t make it. Pry’Shayn wrestled his heart out, and I know this meant a lot to him.
“Carter always did what we asked of him, which included bouncing around to other weights. With the No. 1 at his weight, Cal had to beat six other guys, so I’m proud of him as a freshman — especially having to move up to 152. Keaton and Alex got tough draws and had to fight through their brackets. I’m proud of those five, even though they didn’t make it.
The Dodgers advanced 13 wrestlers into the semifinal round, and had 10 finalists.
Fort Dodge won the district title with 236.5 points. Ankeny was second with 220. The Hawks advanced 10 wrestlers to state.
Fort Dodge will begin the state tournament on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. inside Wells Fargo Arena. The Dodgers’ next action will be Wednesday at 9 a.m. against North Scott in a state dual tournament quarterfinal in Des Moines.