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Ayala will hit the mat in Pittsburgh

—Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge’s three-time state champion Drake Ayala will compete for Team USA in the 47th annual Dapper Dan/Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic.

PITTSBURGH — Drake Ayala’s next adventure takes him to the Steel City for the “Rose Bowl of Wrestling” this week.

Fort Dodge’s three-time state champion will be representing Team USA in the 47th annual Dapper Dan/Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic on Friday night. He will compete at 126 pounds and square off with Joey Fischer, a nationally-ranked Pennsylvania state champion from South Park, Pa. and freshman-to-be at Div. I Clarion University.

Ayala, a University of Iowa recruit, is the country’s No. 1 high school wrestler at 126 pounds.

“It’s an honor,” said Ayala, who arrived in Pittsburgh on Thursday. “Very cool for sure. I’m excited to get out there and compete in such a prestigious event.”

The Pittsburgh Classic is widely considered to be the premier all-star exhibition for prep competitors in the United States. Fewer than a dozen Iowans have competed for Team USA in the history of the event.

Ayala will be joined by future Hawkeye teammate Caleb Rathjen of Ankeny in the USA All-Star lineup. Ayala and his dad, Sam, made the trip with Rathjen and his mom. Sebolt Wrestling Academy representatives TJ Sebolt and Adam Fellers — a 2001 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate — are also with the camp.

Ayala and Rathjen are on the docket beginning at 5:30 p.m. Central time on Friday evening.

“We’re lucky to have this opportunity,” Ayala said. “Given the history of the Pittsburgh Classic and the level of competition, it’s just going to be a great experience. This is the best of the best in the United States.”

Former Fort Dodge state champ Drew Bennett wrestled for Team Iowa in the 2018 Pittsburgh Classic. He earned the title of Iowa’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.

The main event annually pits Team USA against Team Pennsylvania, with an undercard featuring a selected state’s all-star team versus other Pennsylvania standouts. Maryland will be participating this season.

Nearly three dozen Div. I recruits will be in action on Friday.

Ayala, a four-time state finalist with FDSH, won 171 career matches as a Dodger, helping the program secure three team trophies at the traditional state tournament and a championship in 2018. Ayala is a two-time Fargo Nationals champion and a Super 32 Challenge gold medalist.

After this weekend’s activity, Ayala will head back to Pennsylvania in two weeks for a freestyle dual tournament at State College as a Team Sebolt representative.

Ayala will be graduating from FDSH later this spring, and move to Iowa City at some point shortly after.

“It’s crazy to think about everything here coming to an end,” Ayala said. “A lot of my friends have graduated early, and the school seems a lot emptier than it was (during the previous trimester).

“It’s all bittersweet, but I’m also ready for the next chapter.”

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