A shot at redemption
La PORTE — Last season was supposed to be ‘the year’ for Noah Perez.
It didn’t work out that way.
La Porte’s junior grappler stumbled in the Crown Point Regional, not finishing in the top four and missing out on advancing to the semistate after making the semistate as a sophomore.
But Perez has battled back this season and has qualified for the East Chicago Central Semistate as a senior. The experience of competing in the semistate isn’t lost on Perez, who’s immensely motivated by falling in last year’s regional.
“It’ll benefit me, because losing at the regional last year, that’s really driven me this season to not overlook any of my opponents,” said Perez, who needs two victories to advance to state. “So I just prepare for each one the same.”
After getting over the regional hump, Perez is poised for more in his last opportunity in high school.
“Just knowing this is my last season, my last chance to make it down to the state meet, that really pushes me to keep working hard,” Perez said. “And try and push past the semistate and get into the state tournament.”
Perez (36-6) place second in the Crown Point Regional last week to punch his ticket to Saturday’s semistate. In addition, he placed second in the La Porte Sectional on January 26.
Perez lost both times in the final to Chesterton’s Evan Bates. Fortunately, he wouldn’t face Bates until the title match if they both got that far.
“If you want to peak in your high school career, this is the weekend to do it,” Slicers coach Louie Kuzdas said. “We’re really excited to have him at this level at this point.”
Kuzdas has seen Perez develop from an eager, youthful grappler to a seasoned veteran who has bulked up in size.
“We knew as a youngster he was just athletic,” Kuzdas said. “And he really hit the weights early and often in his younger years. So his strength really backs up a lot of his athleticism, which is a great combination for wrestling.”
Perez is one of four Slicers who will compete in the semistate. Tyson Nisley (138), Skyler Querry (152) and Matt Neff (160) are the others. Nisley and Neff were regional champs.
Perez viewed his role this campaign as being an exemplary leader through the way he wrestles.
“You go through a lot of the seniors and you talk about senior leadership and he’s there every day and he puts the work in,” Kuzdas said.
In 2017, Perez qualified for the semistate and ended up one win shy of state. He topped South Bend Clay’s Amere Dozier 8-7 in the opening round at 170, clinching the victory on a locked-hands penalty in the waning seconds. In the second round, or ticket round, he was pinned by River Forest’s Bradley Groover, and wound up fifth.
Fast forward two years and Perez has gotten much better as a grappler, particularly since the start of this season.
“Technically, he’s improved on a lot of his wrestling ability,” Kuzdas said. “As a younger wrestler, he was relying more on his athleticism and his strength. Where now he’s wrestling through moves, instead of just being athletic. That’s one of the mainstays of what he’s done over the last year or so.”
While he’s an exceptional wrestler, Perez thrived on the gridiron as well. He earned Indiana Football Coaches Association Class 5A All-State honors as a linebacker for La Porte.
In terms of extracurricular activities, Perez serves on the Student Athletic Council, in addition to being the senior class president. After he graduates, he plans on entering a labor union. First and foremost, Perez is focused on this weekend’s wrestling semistate, where he will face Calumet sophomore Mark Flores (10-3) in the opening round.
“Working hard and really push myself in practice,” Perez said of his preparation. “It’d be great, because that’s all I’ve wanted to do since my freshman year, to make it down to the state tournament. That would just be a great feeling.”
Perez added the emphasis in this week’s practices has been concentrating on the little things the four Slicer grapplers need to fix, besides the technique.
“Hopefully, we can wrestle our best this season,” he said.
Kuzdas is hoping for the same thing from his wrestlers and is optimistic of a state bid for Perez.
“He’s known in the area as a good wrestler,” Kuzdas said. “We’re hoping to get him to where he deserves to be.”
East Chicago Central Semistate
When: 9 a.m., Saturday
Where: John A. Baratto Center, E.C. Central High School
Area competitors: La Porte -- Tyson Nisley (138), Skyler Querry (152), Matt Neff (160), Noah Perez (182); New Prairie -- Brayden Ruiz (132), Luke Lenig (170), Grant Johnson (195), Hunter Whitenack (285); Michigan City -- John Wilcher (220)
Note: The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the state finals