After a championship is won, a question is often asked, or at least debated, concerning the athlete.
What is left for this great champion to accomplish?
In the case of Karson Ayres, the more appropriate query might have been to ponder what was coming next.
The Fountain Valley High senior did not have to come back, especially after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in early September.
Thanks to advancements in medical science, Ayres was afforded an opportunity to compete in his senior season.
He returned to the mat just three months after undergoing a LARS (Ligament Augmentation and Reconstruction) procedure in Austria, bent on making the most of his second chance.
Ayres was the defending CIF Southern Section Southern Division champion in the 138s entering the season, but he maintained that he had unfinished business.
For completing those tasks in the face of adversity, Ayres has been selected as the Daily Pilot Wrestler of the Year.
“I’m honored,” Ayres said. “I’ve put a lot of work in, so it’s always nice to see hard work paying off. This season was real tough for me, coming back from my knee injury and everything, trying to train and be the best that I could without that much time.”
It is said that the toughest thing to do in sports is to repeat as champion. The Fountain Valley star was not about to back down from a challenge.
A sign of an elite athlete is one that is always looking to get better, regardless of the outcome. Despite placing in every tournament that he competed in, Ayres frequently found ways to be dissatisfied with his performance.
After beating Lakewood Mayfair’s Khalil Howard in the quarterfinals (decision, 8-5) of the Five Counties Tournament, he was disappointed that he did not make the adjustments necessary to keep Howard at bay when the two matched up again in the third-place match (dec. 4-1).
He wrapped titles at the Arroyo Classic and the Laguna Hills Invitational around the fourth-place showing at his school’s host tournament.
In fact, after Five Counties, Ayres would not lose again until the Masters Meet. Along the way, he earned several distinctions.
He became the first Fountain Valley Baron to win four individual league titles, beating Marina’s John McCoy in a 5-3 decision in the 145s final.
“That’s a huge accomplishment, to be the first one in Fountain Valley’s history to win four league titles,” Ayres said. “There’s people that have come through here and gone on to wrestle in the Olympics.”
“They’ve gone on to wrestle in college and do great things, including national placers. To be the only one to win a league title four times, it shows that my future is bright with the sport of wrestling.”
The two league rivals met again in the CIF-SS Southern Division championship match, with Ayres defending his crown by a 5-4 decision.
One goal remained. Ayres had never qualified for the state tournament. After a loss to Riverside King’s Brandon Esparza, Ayres became incensed at the fact that he had made his road to the state tournament that much harder.
“I was winning by three points, and I ended up messing up and getting thrown," Ayres said of his defeat in the main draw. “I barely lost that match, so I was mad, and then I had [Newport Harbor’s] Xander Moreno the next day. Losing that just really [ticked] me off, but I knew what I had to do to get ninth and get to the state tournament.”
Those emotions were proof that he cared about his craft, and he wanted to go farther than he ever had before. Alas, those ambitions required the vaunted Sunset League 145s trio to be broken up.
Ayres bounced back from being pinned by Moreno, eliminating McCoy in a tight bout, 4-2. The Barons senior left no doubt that he would be advancing in the ninth-place match, defeating Rialto Carter’s Jerry Rubio by major decision, 13-0.
The main-draw loss at Masters cost Ayres the opportunity to improve his seeding for the state tournament. As the last to qualify from the Southern Section, he drew the assignment of reigning state champion Navonte Demison in the first round.
That is a bad draw in and of itself, but it was compounded by the fact that Demison was the hometown favorite. Ayres said that Demison was well-supported inside of Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena.
“He had his whole section in the crowd that was all his fans,” Ayres said. “That was crazy. I looked up, and I was on the big screen. I was like, ‘Wow.’”
“Wrestling at state was the No. 1 thing for this season. The chance to be there and perform with all those people watching, it’s a great experience.”
Life goes on, and Ayres will not be saying goodbye to the sport any time soon. He has signed with Queens University in Charlotte, NC, where he will be coached by former Olympian Ken Chertow.
“He’s been a great asset to the program,” Barons Coach Brad Woodbury said of Ayres. “He works hard. He’s a great team leader, so we’re going to miss him.”
“We’re going to look forward to watching him in college, so that’s exciting.”
Ayres’ name is enshrined in the Fountain Valley wrestling Hall of Fame, a list of names adorning the walls in the school's wrestling room. The exclusive club is reserved for league champions and those who have placed in CIF and beyond. Ayres is the only one to have his name on that list four times.
Coach of the Year
The long-time coach of the Barons is no stranger to the sport or to success. He just completed his 19th season as a head coach and his 16th at Fountain Valley High. Woodbury guided his program to its sixth straight Sunset League title and eighth in 10 years. From a team standpoint, that was the pinnacle of the season. The Barons edged Marina, 32-26, in the final dual meet of the year. “Marina was a great dual meet,” Woodbury said. “It was one of the best dual meets I’ve ever been in. It was exciting. The kids battled.” Dual meets, however, are far from Woodbury’s favorite measure of success. He routinely holds his school out of the CIF Dual Championships because the competition can lead to season-ending injuries. The Barons qualified 12 wrestlers for CIF, eight for Finals, and three for Masters (the most among local programs).
Ocean View, Jr. (120s)
The Seahawks do not have a large wrestling program, but they have pedigree and culture. Edsell is the third in his family to wrestle at Ocean View, and his brother, Noah, was an assistant coach with the team this year. As a junior, Edsell jumped two weight classes, but he was still dominant in claiming his second Golden West League crown. Seahawks Coach Nolan Johnson said that Edsell did not like to give up points to teammates at practice, and it translated to match day. He posted a record of 33-11, taking a regular-season title at the Segerstrom Jaguar Classic. He earned a second-place showing at the Scott Davis Invitational and took third at the Cossarek Classic.
Newport Harbor, Jr. (145s)
If someone were to build a clone of Karson Ayres, they might start with the Sailors junior. Moreno transferred in from Clovis North and instantly became a local standout. He did not suffer a takedown until the Sunset League Finals. A minor lower-body injury kept him out of action for several of the league dual meets. Only a final-round, come-from-behind victory by fall against Huntington Beach’s Josh Harrison in the third-place match of league finals extended his junior year to the postseason. From there, he seemed to get stronger with each week of action. He was a CIF-SS Southern Division semifinalist. He beat Ayres in the Masters Meet, placing sixth. Moreno exhibited outstanding body control as a defensive wrestler, going 27-7 on the campaign. He owns the distinction as the area’s only wrestler to post a win in the state championship meet this season.
Marina, Jr. (145s)
When tournament competitors in the 145s scanned the draw, they probably hoped to avoid a school from the Sunset League. McCoy was one of three league wrestlers to have a shot to advance to state on the final day of the Masters Meet. He won’t be sorry to see Ayres graduate, whom he was the runner-up to in the Sunset League Finals and the CIF-SS Southern Division Finals. The final nail in the coffin was a 4-2 decision against Ayres in the ninth-place bracket at Masters. McCoy notched an overall record of 38 wins and 15 losses. The junior’s demeanor on the mat suggested that opponents were in for a world of hurt. Vikings Coach Chris Rasmussen seconded that notion, saying, ‘John hates losing.’ McCoy helped his team take second in league. Marina threatened Fountain Valley in the final dual meet, losing 32-26. He placed second in the Cossarek Classic and the John Glenn Tournament. He went undefeated in the Tustin Duals and the Tustin Invitational.
Ocean View, Jr. (150s)
Seahawks Coach Nolan Johnson said that one of the things that he appreciates the most about Vu is the intensity that she brings to the mat. He called the junior a “no nonsense” wrestler who did not show up to tournaments to make friends. Vu qualified for the state meet, but she was unable to participate due to a shoulder injury. She posted 27 wins against just eight losses, claiming third at the regional qualifying tournament. Vu won the Esperanza Tournament, placed second at Bonita, and took third in the Upland Blackwatch Tournament.
Huntington Beach, Sr. (160s)
If there was one local wrestler that just seemed happy to be there, it was the Oilers senior. A Sunset League champion in his own right, Oehling often joked that the Coastal Cities were home to more than just a bunch of surfers. His shoulder-length hair did nothing to dismiss that stereotype, but he was certainly the right man for the job. Oehling became Huntington Beach High’s first Masters Meet qualifier since 2009, and he advanced to the second day of the state-qualifying tournament. He went 23-12 for the season.
Marina, Jr. (170s)
Been earned the praises of Vikings Coach Chris Rasmussen as a great vocal leader in the room. His blue-collar work ethic helped him put together a solid season, one in which he placed in every tournament that he competed in. He was first in his weight class in the Tustin Duals, third in the Tustin Invitational, fourth in the John Glenn Tournament, and fifth in the Cossarek Classic. Been was a Sunset League champion. He advanced to the Masters Meet after placing fifth at the CIF-SS Southern Division Finals. He was 28-12 overall, 3-0 in league.
Fountain Valley, Sr. (182s)
O’Donnell was one of the premier offensive wrestlers in the area. The senior was always in search of the takedown, and more often than not, he got it. Newport Harbor’s DJ Van Oostendorp presented his top competition in league. When they matched up, however, O’Donnell was able to elevate his game to secure opening-round pins. O’Donnell finished the season with 40 wins and nine losses, winning 28 of those by fall. He topped the competition at the Brea Takedown Challenge, the Tustin Invitational, and the Sunset League Finals. The CIF-SS Southern Division runner-up completed his season with an 11th-place showing at Masters. O’Donnell plans to continue wrestling at Cerritos College.
Name, School, Year (Weight Class)
Jack O’Donnell, Fountain Valley, So. (126s)
Josh Harrison, Huntington Beach, Sr. (145s)
Daniel Serrano, Ocean View, Sr. (152s)
Jewlian Avila, Corona del Mar, Sr. (160s)
Ray Welsher, Costa Mesa, Sr. (160s)
Adrien Plancarte, Costa Mesa, Sr. (170s)
DJ Van Oostendorp, Newport Harbor, Sr. (182s)
George Sykes, Fountain Valley, Sr. (195s)
Garrett Weichmann, Edison, Sr. (285s)