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Ayala completes Fargo trifecta

Fort Dodge star takes third title at prestigious event

Submitted photo/Tony Hager, IAWrestle: Drake Ayala of Fort Dodge receives his Fargo Nationals Most Outstanding Wrestler award on Tuesday in Fargo, N.D.

FARGO, N.D. — Drake Ayala has bigger and better in mind as he closes the book on his high school wrestling career.

The sky seems to be the limit for Ayala, who is now headed to the University of Iowa after putting an exclamation point on his time as a prep with another Fargo Nationals title in the junior men’s freestyle division on Tuesday.

The recently-graduated Fort Dodge Dodger took his regal, almost-mythical body of work in stride as it officially came to an end: three Fargo golds, a Super 32 Challenge crown, a win at the “Who’s No. 1” national event, four appearances in the Iowa High school championship round, three individual titles, 171 victories at FDSH, two-time Dan Gable Mr. Wrestler of the Year award winner, academic All-American.

For an 18-year-old always pressing on and moving forward, though, Ayala did want to take a moment and pay tribute to his roots after being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler for the icing on the cake.

“I’m just go thankful and grateful for everything and everyone back home,” Ayala said after overwhelming Indiana’s Sergio Lemley with a first-period technical fall in a 52-second blitz. “Being able to represent Iowa and always call it home — it’s a big deal to me. There’s nowhere else I’d rather say I’m from. I was asked (to hold an Iowa flag) during warmups and it kind of caught me off guard, but I’m glad I did. Very cool moment to represent our state.”

Ayala then specifically turned his attention to Fort Dodge, calling it “the best place there is.”

“Fort Dodge is great. It’s why I am who I am and where I am today,” Ayala said. “I’ll always take that with me, regardless of where I end up someday. The support and knowing how many people are in my corner…it’s special.”

The 126-pound bracket was predicted by many to be among the toughest in the Fargo field this week. Ayala instead sliced it up like a chainsaw through butter. He won seven matches, outscoring his opponents by a 72-4 count with six technical falls and a pin.

“There were a bunch of good wrestlers of course,” said Ayala, who also prevailed here in 2017 as an 88-pound eighth-grader and in 2019 at 113 pounds. “It’s Fargo. There’s always a lot of talent here. I’m just trying to learn and improve every day. That’s the focus.”

Ayala’s next stop is Iowa City. For the next few weeks, though, it’s a stretch of rest and the simple life before the next chapter of his story is written.

“It’s a great way to end my high school career, for sure,” said Ayala, who had previously ended Fort Dodge 43-year Fargo Nationals drought by becoming the community’s first champ here since Joe Zuspann in 1974. “It’s pretty cool looking back, knowing the history of wrestling in our town and all the elite guys who have come through here. It’s just crazy and strange to be talking in past tense now. Very bittersweet.

“I had a lot of fun, though — especially being here with my (younger) brother (Dru, a sophomore-to-be who garnered All-American status with a seventh-place performance at 100 pounds). It was awesome and I’m really excited for his future. This past year has meant everything to us, competing together (as Dodgers) and in tournaments like this (representing Sebolt Academy). That’s what it’s all about: family.”

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