Nicholas Perez
Hughson’s Perez falls short in quest for state wrestling medal

Feb. 24, 2024

The State Wrestling Meet is an egalitarian event known for its extreme competitiveness. Unlike other sports, there are no enrollment-based divisions in wrestling. Athletes from any size school come together over three days in Bakersfield, with as many as 10 matches happening at once. The athletes – the best of the best in the country’s biggest state – battle one on one, relying upon their skill and strength and sometimes even a little luck. Only 14 walk away each year as state champions.

Hughson’s Nicholas Perez made his third trip to the State Meet over the weekend, something that already separates him from 99% of his peers, who would be thrilled to qualify even once. The Husky senior, competing at 175 pounds, won three matches and lost two. He fell two victories short of that elusive state medal, awarded to the top eight wrestlers in each weight class.

Though Perez may not have achieved his goal of earning a medal, he still accomplished more than any Husky wrestler since Billy Murphy, who won Hughson’s last medal in 2005-06.

Perez finished his Hughson career with a record of 134-31, an impressive reminder of how dominant he was beginning as a freshman, when he went 11-0 during a COVID-shortened season. But his coach believes Perez’s legacy will be even more enduring than mere results.

“I hope he can be remembered as the kid who brought Hughson wrestling back on the mat, along with my brother Connor (who qualified for the State Meet with Perez in 2022),” said Joey La Rosa. “I think it’s the turning of the tide. Qualifying for state three times? That’s amazing. I only qualified once. Nicholas was one of the kids who put in the work and had some success. He’s an example to others in the youth and high school programs of what can happen when you’re willing to work hard.”

Perez’s final meet wearing Hughson’s black and gold singlet began Thursday afternoon with a quick pin of Nathan Ferman of Lowell (San Francisco).

“It was good to get the nerves out of the way and get your hand raised,” La Rosa said.

In Perez’s second match later Thursday, he faced Junior Bumanglag of Granite Hills (San Diego). They were tied 1-1 with 15 seconds left in the final period when Perez finally executed a move to control Bumanglag’s legs and take him down for two points. Bumanglag earned a point back by escaping, but Perez held on for a 3-2 victory.

“Nicholas had got in on three or four leg attempts, but hadn’t been able to finish the takedown,” La Rosa said. “You could see the kid was wearing down and we found a way to make it happen at the end. It was a good win for him. It got the tournament started off on right foot.”

Perez’s third opponent was a familiar one -- Mason Ontiveros of Pitman High in Turlock. Though only a sophomore, Ontiveros was ranked second in the state at 175 pounds (Perez was 15th). The two had squared off twice before, with Ontiveros coming out on top both times – last summer in Las Vegas and Dec. 23 at the Ceres Tournament. Their third match wasn’t close, with Ontiveros building up a big lead and eventually winning 19-7.

“That’s the best wrestler who will ever walk through that high school,” said La Rosa, who graduated from Pitman, made one State Meet appearance and wrestled collegiately at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. “He’s super talented and coached well. We fought super hard and just got outgunned.”

Ontiveros eventually made it all the way to the 175-pound finals Saturday night before losing.

The loss to Ontiveros dropped Perez into the consolation bracket. He didn’t wrestle again until late Friday afternoon – making for a long wait.

“We weighed in Friday morning, then went back and had breakfast and took a nap,” La Rosa said.

The group returned to the arena about 1 p.m. While Joey La Rosa scouted potential opponents, his brother Connor warmed up Perez. The work paid off as Perez defeated Roman Arredondo of Bullard (Fresno) 3-0.

“Nicholas controlled the match, just like the second match he won,” La Rosa said. “He wore the kid down and got a late takedown.”

The win kept Perez alive for one more match. Unfortunately, his season – and career – ended with a 7-2 loss late Friday night to Isaiah Rangel of Palma.

“We just didn’t wrestle our best match and got beat,” La Rosa said. “He was devastated. He gave everything he ever had. I’m super proud of him and I loved coaching him. There are only 14 state champions, though. Other than those guys, everyone else at the State Meet had the same kind of gut punch as Nicholas because it’s not how they wanted it to go.”

Perez plans to continue his wrestling career in college. He is being recruited by a number of schools in the Midwest, where wrestling is more popular than on the West Coast.

“He’ll take some time off, but I’m sure he’ll get back to training,” La Rosa said. “Pretty soon, he’ll get that itch to get back on the mat.”