Under normal circumstances we should be chomping at the bit for the 2020 NCAA Wrestling Tournament to get underway tomorrow morning, the start of a three-day extravaganza of wrestling that was hopefully going to end with Iowa claiming their first national championship since 2010. Unfortunately, our current circumstances are anything but normal. But thankfully we do have some very good -- and every exciting -- Iowa wrestling news to report today: blue chip in-state recruit Drake Ayala is heading to Iowa City for his college career.
Im excited to announce that I will be continuing my athletic and academic career at the University of Iowa. Thank you to everyone who has helped me get to this point. Go hawks! pic.twitter.com/BkZfP5r8r8— Drake Ayala (@drakeayala38) March 18, 2020
Ayala, a current high school junior, is already highly decorated. He's gone 132-2 during his three years at Fort Dodge (both losses came against Mason City's Cullan Schriever, who will be Ayala's future Iowa teammate) and won 91 straight on his way to back-to-back state championships. He won Junior national titles in folkstyle and freestyle last year, as well as a Cadet national title in freestyle in 2017. So he hasn't just dominated the competition in Iowa -- he's had plenty of success against many of the best wrestlers across the nation in his age group.
This is a huge pick-up for Iowa for a few reasons. One, he's a highly-regarded national recruit and he immediately becomes one of the top-ranked members of Iowa's 2021 recruiting class. MatScout ranks Ayala as #9 overall (best among Iowa's 2021 'croots), while InterMat ranks him #13 (right behind fellow Iowa recruit Wyatt Henson at #12). Blue chip status matters -- blue chip prospects fueled Ohio State and Penn State's rise to the top of college wrestling over the last decade and they've fueled Iowa's return to the top of the mountain this season. Adding another one like Ayala is key to Iowa's hopes of continuing to contend for titles when the current group of stars graduates.
Two, Ayala is an in-state recruit (from Fort Dodge). The state of Iowa doesn't produce a lot of elite talent, which heightens the need for the Hawkeyes to secure commitments from in-state elite talent when it does manifest. Securing a commitment from a talent like Ayala sends the message that Iowa is still the place to go for top in-state talent.
Three, Ayala can fill a position of need. He's ranked #2 in the nation at 120 lbs per MatScout and InterMat (and he's the highest-ranked non-senior) and projects at 125 lbs. It just so happens that Iowa will have a glaring need for a 125er in 2022 or 2023. The issue of Spencer Lee's eligibility (that is, whether he might be able to get another year of eligibility given the abrupt end to the 2019-20 season) shouldn't impact Ayala, either. If Lee doesn't get an additional year of eligibility and concludes his Iowa career as a senior in 2020-21, then Ayala could step in as a true freshman in 2021-22. If Lee does receive another year of eligibility, then Ayala could redshirt in 2021-22 and replace Lee in 2022-23.
Speaking of Lee, he'll no doubt cast a long shadow over Ayala's Iowa career (as he would over anyone who takes the mat to replace him at 125 lbs in a few years), but he's a big part of the rich tradition of lightweight wrestling at Iowa that Ayala will join and expect to continue. Think about this: since 2010, Iowa has gone from Matt McDonough to Cory Clark to Thomas Gilman to Spencer Lee at 125 lbs. 133 lbs has been pretty salty, too, between four years of Tony Ramos, three years of Cory Clark, and the current run of Austin DeSanto. No one coaches and develops lightweights as well as Iowa right now, so Ayala will be in very good hands with Tom and Terry Brands in Iowa City.
That was no doubt part of what led Ayala, who also had offers from Iowa State, North Carolina, and Ohio State, to choose Iowa. As he told IAWrestle's Tony Hager, though, he chose Iowa for the entire package of what the Hawkeyes can offer:
“Everything really sold me (on Iowa). I think that is the place where I can grow the most and reach my goals.” Ayala told our own Tony Hager, “I’m looking forward to getting in the room and scrapping with all the guys.”
Ayala is an aggressive, high-motor wrestler who's skilled in all positions and has a knack for bonus points; he figures to be a very exciting addition to the Iowa lineup in a year or two. Thanks for providing us with some very welcome good news, Drake, and welcome to Iowa City. We're thrilled to see what you can do in a black and gold singlet.