A hard-earned fourth

December 30, 2018

MISHAWAKA -- Is there anything good to be said for traveling to a huge high school wrestling tournament and getting beat up?

Well, yeah, actually, there is.

“We just don’t see a level of competition like this anywhere else,” La Porte coach Louis Kuzdas said as the 40th annual Al Smith wrestling invitational drew to a close Saturday.

“It’s a meat-grinder but it is great preparation for the Duneland (Conference tournament) and sectional in a few weeks,” Kuzdas said. “We get to see styles of wrestling that we don’t normally see. It’s a rough two days but I’m glad we are here.”

Arguably the best high school wrestling tournament in Indiana -- outside of the IHSAA state finals -- this year’s Al Smith meet drew eight Top 20-ranked teams.

No. 1-ranked Indianapolis Cathedral claimed four individual champs and scored 233 points to earn the team title. No. 10 Columbus East – with three champs – finished second at 180 ½. Chesterton was 10th. LaPorte scored 54 points and finished 24th out of 32 teams.

Just getting through Friday’s preliminary rounds was an accomplishment. Three Slicers survived to the second day and earned a spot on the awards podium.

Noah Perez led the way, finishing fourth in the 182-pound weight class. Claiming eighth-place awards were Tyson Nisley (138 pounds) and Matt Neff (160).

If that doesn’t seem like a lot, be aware that several teams went home with nothing.

“Coming in here, I really didn’t know what to expect,“ said Perez, who now has a 26-3 season record. “My main goal was just to qualify for the second day. I’m just glad that I got fourth.”

Perez pinned Cathedral’s Jacob Huffman and advanced to the third-place consolation match when his wrestleback opponent, Penn’s Noah Brown, had to forfeit due to injury.

He was pinned by NorthWood’s Jake Lone – ranked No. 7 in the state power poll – in 3:31 to finish his day.

“I feel like I can’t be satisfied,” Perez said. “I have to go back and look at what I did wrong and work on those things.

Nisley (24-4) finished the day with a 1-2 mark. Same with Neff (21-7).

“You look at our three kids today. Yes, they all lost their final round, but we look at this as a stepping stone,” said Kuzdas, who has had his share of highs and lows at the meet over the years.

“This is a different tournament. Half the (wrestlers) in the finals today were under the lights at (the state meet) last year. Even if you aren’t competing, you’re seeing the best in the state. When you get to the post-season, it’s survive and advance. They’ll remember the stuff they learned here.”

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