Aphrodite Ayala makes fast ascent

413
Gilroy High senior Aphrodite Ayala has signed a letter of intent to wrestle at Simpson University. Photo by Robert Eliason.

When Aphrodite Ayala decided to compete in wrestling for the first time in her sophomore year, she had it in the back of her mind that it could lead to something greater. The Gilroy High senior proved prescient, as she signed her letter of intent to wrestle at Simpson University of Redding on March 4.

“It’s exciting because now I’ve opened a new chapter in life where I can set new goals and expectations for myself and know I can accomplish them,” she said. 

Ayala recently completed a spectacular senior season that saw her win the 111-pound title in both the Pacific Coast League and Central Coast Section Championships to go along with a 3-2 record in the CIF State Championships. She was one win away from placing in the state tournament, winning her first match in the CIF State Championships before getting pinned by the No. 3 seed in her second match. Ayala then won two contests in the consolation bracket before losing an 8-2 decision, a match away from the placing rounds. 

“State was great,” she said. “I exceeded my expectations and came up one match away from getting into the placing matches, but I felt good. Last year was nerve-wracking at state, and this year I felt a lot more comfortable.”

In choosing Simpson University, Ayala is headed to a program that will be in its second year of collegiate competition. Ayala and her dad e-mailed the Simpson coach last summer and took a visit to the campus over Labor Day weekend. Ayala said Simpson wanted to see how she fared this season, and did she ever deliver. She racked up wins at a prodigious rate, earning tournament victories and in the process being dominant in her matches. Ayala said Simpson offered her a scholarship in the middle of the season, and she committed two weeks ago. Before Ayala decided to focus solely on wrestling in her senior year, she pulled off a remarkable feat in her sophomore and junior year, competing in four sports: cross country, track and soccer, the latter simultaneously with wrestling. However, Ayala had an inkling that she could really take her wrestling game to another level if she just dropped the other sports. As hard as that was, Ayala made the right decision. 

Wrestling runs in Ayala’s family. Even though Ayala didn’t get on the mat for competition until two years ago, she was always around the sport. Her uncle, Louie Godinez, coached at South Valley Middle School for 30 years.

“Wrestling has been in our family for a while, but we never had girls wrestle before,” she said.

Ayala credited several coaches for helping her develop the skills and technique necessary to have a chance to wrestle in college, including former Mustangs coach Greg Varela. 

“When I first started, he helped me through the season,” Ayala said. “I knew I needed a lot of work, and he had the patience to get me through an entire season. For my second year of wrestling, he wasn’t coaching here anymore (because he took a job to be the Los Gatos High coach), but I still keep in contact with him. He loves my family dearly, and he helped me a lot. … D.C. (Daniel Cormier) and Rachelle (Proa) also helped me get to the next level.” 

Proa, the Gilroy High girls wrestling coach, stresses the importance of progression in her athletes. 

“Win or lose, as long as I’m seeing progression—one, as a wrestler and two, being coachable and as a person—that’s the goal for me,” Proa said. “From last year to this year, Aphrodite’s progression has been insane. What she did at state speaks volumes to the progression she’s made.”

Early in the season, Ayala won the 111-pound weight class in the Rocklin West Coast Tournament of Champions, which is one of the more prestigious events in the state. Ayala was the No. 3 seed in the tournament, but ended up dominating the competition with five pins in five matches.

“That was probably her most impressive tournament for me,” Proa said. “It made her finally realize that she was the best of the best and put in her mind that she could beat all these girls. That was the tournament I saw the most of her, and that set the tone for the rest of the year.”

Proa credited Ayala’s parents for investing time in taking her to wrestling camps and tournaments all last summer, because it was in that period where Ayala made dramatic improvement. 

“Big kudos to her parents for investing the time,” Proa said. “At the end of the day, that is what separates the Gilroy program from the rest of the programs. The parents put in the time, and the athletes like Aphrodite put in the time.”

It shows.