Iowa's Drake Ayala, left, takes on Arizona State's Richard Figueroa in their 125-pound match in the finals of the NCAA wrestling championships, Saturday, March 23, 2024, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY — For anyone who knows Drake Ayala, Saturday night’s loss will not define him as a wrestler or a person.

That includes his head coach, Iowa’s Tom Brands.

Ayala ended his redshirt sophomore season in the 125-pound finals here at the NCAA Championships inside the T-Mobile Center, falling to Arizona State’s Richard Figueroa, 7-2.

Behind Ayala’s run to silver, the Hawkeyes would place fifth overall, as Penn State set a new tournament record with 172.5 points. The former Fort Dodge Senior High three-time state champion kept Iowa’s streak of having a finalist alive at 32 years and counting.

“He’s dealing with a lot right now,” Brands said. “He’ll deal with it. That’s what competitors do. (Ayala) is an extraordinary competitor and he’ll go forward from here.”

As high school seniors, Ayala and Figueroa met twice, with each earning a win over the other. The rubber match belonged to the Sun Devil, as he secured takedowns in the second and third periods following a scoreless first.

Ayala is Fort Dodge’s first NCAA Div. I wrestling All-American since Dave Ewing at Iowa State in 1985 (third place).

Ayala, who also qualified for nationals as a true freshman two years ago before taking his redshirt last winter, finished the year 27-5 overall.

“Drake Ayala has two years of eligibility left,” Brands said. “He was just in the national finals. You want to find a way to win that match. He wants to find a way to in that match. It didn’t happen but you got to go forward.

“This is a period of self-reflection and communication between the coaches. You don’t open that curtain for everyone to see.”

Iowa has placed in the Top-5 16 times over the last 17 years under Brands.

Real Woods, Jared Franek and Michael Caliendo concluded their seasons as All-Americans, placing in the Top-8. Woods and Caliendo both finished fourth overall for the Hawkeyes, with Franek finishing eight.

Woods, a four-time All-American for Iowa, finished his career 85-14 overall. He topped Iowa State’s Anthony Echemendia before falling to Nebraska’s Brock Hardy for third at 141 pounds.

“Reflecting back on my career and my time at Iowa, I have a lot of gratitude,” Woods said. “I am grateful for all the people that are in the Iowa wrestling program, as well as in the Stanford wrestling program.”

Woods was a two-time All-American at Stanford before transferring to Iowa.

Caliendo scored a vicory over Izzak Olejnik of Oklahoma State before suffering a loss to defending national champion Keegan O’Toole for third at 165. He has twice finished as an All-American.

Franek fell to Nebraska’s Peyton Robb in his final match, also ending as a two-time All-American with 119 career wins.


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