WAVERLY – Ryder Block may very well have a target on his back, whether he accepts it or not.
After all, despite missing a significant portion of the first half of the season recovering from an injury, Block has pieced together quite a run. On the heels of winning the 106-pound Class 3A state championship as a freshman last season, Block knocked off one of the most well-known names across the state in Fort Dodge’s Drake Ayala on Jan. 23.
Yet the second-year Waverly-Shell Rock standout doesn’t think about the label that accompanies him each time he laces up his shoes and snaps on his headgear, or the pressure that awaits him each match. He embraces it, feeds off it.
“I’m coming for everyone, too,” he said. “I was seeing the rankings and I was looking at everybody when I was hurt, and no one really knew where I was at. In my mind, I’m thinking I’m coming for everybody or I’m on the bike doing a sprint and I’m thinking what my opponents are doing, so it motivates me. I want to beat everybody; I want to be the best. It motivates me.”
He put the state on high alert by winning the Class 3A, District 8 132-pound district championship Saturday at Go-Hawk Gymnasium, breezing through both of his matches with a fall and a 7-1 decision over Mason City’s Jace Rhodes in the final.
Others are coming for Block, too. Namely Ayala, who ultimately put the target on Block’s back when he decided he wanted another shot at the W-SR grappler and bumped up to 132 from 126 during weigh-ins prior to Saturday’s District 4 tournament in Fort Dodge. Ayala won the district championship is the No. 2 seed entering Thursday’s Class 3A traditional tournament. Block arrives as the No. 1 seed with a 21-0 record.
Not only are Ayala and Block competitors, but they also are good friends. They train together at Sebolt Wrestling Academy based out of Jefferson, Iowa.
“We’ll see,” Block said. “I’m assuming we see each other in the finals, but I’ve got to wrestle state duals and three matches before that, so I can’t get too focused on that. If it happens, it happens. We’ll see how it goes.
“I understand he’s one of the best wrestlers in the state, and I understand if he gets beat and wants to come at me.”
Block and Ayala are intertwined in a loaded bracket that features an abundance of firepower. From Indianola’s Ryder Downey, who is 40-2, to Linn-Mar’s Bryce Parke, a senior who is ranked No. 2, to Southeast Polk’s Ayden Kingery, who has 21 wins on the season, the 132-pound bracket figures to be one of the toughest.
“That’s a great weight,” W-SR coach Eric Whitcome said. “People have texted me, ‘Hey, heard Drake’s going up.’ My response is that’s great. We’ll be at 132 and if our paths cross again, we’ll be the most prepared that we can be to go out and win the next match. I think it’s exciting, and we’re going to have to wrestle whoever we’re going to have to wrestle. That’s what it is.
“But, hey, I think in the national rankings, Drake’s still ranked higher than us. I guess it just gives us the chance to go out and beat him again and maybe means that we should be ahead of him. I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”
Block made the jump to 132 pounds this season, though his initial plan was a smaller leap after starring at 106 during the 2019-2020 campaign. He wanted to go at 120, but then he sustained a knee injury during practice – an ailment that sidelined him for all of the 2020 portion of the schedule.
“I was looking at some rankings, and I was talking to my coaches and I was like, ‘What do you think if I go up to 132?’” Block recalled. “They were all for it and said whatever I want to do, they’re behind me.”
As soon as his knee was healthy, Block got to work. He spent a considerable amount of time in the weight room daily, as well as significant time running and riding the bike before he was cleared to wrestle. Once he was, he worked on his hand fighting with W-SR assistant coach Nick Sand.
“Everything was pretty smooth,” Block said of getting back into wrestling shape.
He made his debut Jan. 2 in a dual against Cedar Rapids Prairie, where he earned a 21-6 tech fall over Logan Redig. Block has posted six tech falls and eight falls this season. Six of his pins have come in the first period. His 8-second fall over Dubuque Hempstead’s Jackson Ruden is the fastest on W-SR’s roster this season.
His decision over Rhodes during Saturday’s district final was just the fourth of the season for Block, who is heading back to Wells Fargo Arena looking for more hardware.
“I’m headed back to the big show, trying to get another title,” Block said.