Ayala ascends to the top of CCS rankings

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Gilroy High senior Aphrodite Ayala is the top-ranked wrestler in the CCS 111-pound weight division. Photo by Robert Eliason.

In both her sophomore and junior year at Gilroy High, Aphrodite Ayala competed in four—count ’em, four—sports. That’s all you need to know about Ayala, who is looking to win a Central Coast Section championship this year in wrestling, which has become her favorite sport. The section’s top-ranked wrestler at 111 pounds, Ayala has had a terrific season, winning the Albany Tournament and Rocklin West Coast Tournament of Champions while finishing as the runner-up in three other tournaments, including last Saturday’s Mid-Cals at Gilroy High. 

Ayala has lost only a handful of times this season, and they’ve all come to wrestlers outside of the CCS. She is coming off a solid junior season, having placed second in the CCS Championships in the same weight class. The 3-2 loss to Maya Letona of Santa Cruz in last year’s CCS title match—the two happen to be good friends—was devastating, but it gave Ayala something to think about as she grinded away in off-season training. 

“I look forward to having the chance again to wrestle in CCS, and I’m really excited to see how well I do in CCS this year,” said Ayala, who has a 3.8 GPA. “Winning that CCS title would be remarkable.”

Mustangs coach Rachelle Proa said what separates Ayala apart from her competition is her mental toughness and overall tactical skills. Although wrestling is a physically demanding sport, the mental aspect plays a vital role in a wrestler’s success or downfall. 

“Aphrodite is very methodical in the way she wrestles,” Proa said. “She’s very aware of everything, which is pretty unique. She’s very athletic, which helps a lot. She’s made incredible progression since last year, and that is my biggest goal when it comes to coaching these girls. I just want to see progression every time they step on the mat, and I see that in her. What separates her is she trains in the off-season non-stop and is always competing, always going to camps and putting in extra work that some others are not willing to do.”

Ayala talks with confidence and swagger, and backs that up by winning on the mat and excelling in the classroom. Incredibly enough, Ayala only started wrestling in her sophomore year, making for a rather quick ascent to the top of the CCS rankings. In her sophomore and junior year, Ayala competed in four sports: cross country, track and soccer, the latter simultaneously with wrestling. Proa can relate to Ayala’s feat, and yet marveled at Ayala’s ability to do four sports over a school year. 

“I did two sports in the same season, which is crazy,” Proa said. “To do soccer—which is hard on the body—in addition to wrestling really speaks to her work ethic and determination.”

Even though Ayala grew up playing soccer—it was far and away her No. 1 sport for a long time—her passion for wrestling started to explode the last couple of years. After a solid sophomore season and strong junior year on the mat, Ayala made the decision to focus on one sport in her senior year—wrestling. She knew another productive season could land her a potential scholarship to wrestle in college. 

“I have two offers now and three other schools who are interested in me coming to their campus so they could (potentially) offer me a scholarship,” she said. 

Ayala had a conversation with her dad at the beginning of her junior year, which eventually led to her decision to focus on wrestling as a senior this year. 

“My dad asked me what (sport) I wanted to do in college, and I decided I wanted to wrestle,” she said. “Ever since I was little, I wanted to get a scholarship in soccer, which was my main sport. Soccer was my first love since I was 4. Everything revolved around soccer, but when I started wrestling sophomore year, the focus started to turn. Junior year everything started to change.”

Did it ever. After placing 10th in the CCS Championships as a sophomore, Ayala came within a whisker of winning it all last year. So far this season, Ayala looks to be the odds-on favorite to capture the 111-pound title. Ayala possesses a variety of skills, but she’s particularly strong with her top game. Proa added that Ayala is coachable, which goes a long way in fast-forwarding an athlete’s development and skill progression. 

Ayala didn’t take up wrestling in her freshman year because she was already committed to playing three sports, and she didn’t want to sacrifice academics for athletics. Turns out, she could balance it all. 

“I did so well freshmen year that I knew I’d be able to handle four sports in my sophomore and then junior year,” she said. 

Former Gilroy coach Greg Varela tried to persuade Ayala to come out for wrestling when she was a freshman, knowing the potential she had. Varela knew Ayala because her sister—who no longer wrestles—had trained under Varela for several years. Ayala credits her dad, Jesse, for being a great role model, and said none of this would be possible without his attention and care. 

“My dad kind of raised me how he lived like when he was in the Navy,” Ayala said. “He wanted to make sure everything is done correctly, and that you do your job correct the first time. Without him I would not have gotten this far. He has so much confidence in me, more than I have in myself. He pushes and motivates me all the time.”

Jesse works out with Aphrodite on the weekends, running with her and supporting her when she has to make weight. 

“He’ll lose weight with me so I’m not alone in losing weight,” she said. “My teammates and coaches also push me in every practice and make sure I’m prepared for all the tournaments. They push me to the limit sometimes, and that is what I need. Without them, it would be a tough season for me.”

Ayala’s success revolves around several factors, including hard work and being relentless physically and mentally. Her high wrestling IQ and strength puts her over the top. 

“Depending on the match, I can be really defensive or offensive,” she said. “I’m prepared for shots and light on my feet. I like to test the waters (early in a match and size up the opponent). I go out, prepare and put myself in situations so the team and I and can be successful.”

Gilroy entered the week at No. 3 in the CCS team rankings, this despite having only 10 girls on the team, Ayala said. The Mustangs are always one of the top programs in the section, and Ayala hopes they can bring home a team CCS championship.