Hughson wrestler Nicholas Perez goes 1-2 in second State Meet; coach already looking ahead

Nicholas Perez’s second experience at the CIF Wrestling Championships was a little better than his first. After losing both matches last year as a sophomore, the Hughson High junior went 1-2 this time around against the very best 152-pounders in Bakersfield.

“It’s the state tournament. It’s the top 0.8 percent of the guys in California,” said Hughson coach Joey La Rosa. “It’s pretty cutthroat.”

Perez faced another junior, No. 6 seed Coen Quintana of Dinuba, in the first round Thursday afternoon. Perez scored an early two-point takedown, but Quintana steadily built his lead thereafter. He was ahead 9-2 in third round when he turned Perez on his back for a pin.

Perez had never faced Quintana before. It was only the second time he had been pinned all year.

“We just got overpowered,” La Rosa said.

Perez’s victory came in the second round Friday when his opponent didn’t make weight.

“You don’t expect that at this level,” La Rosa said. “Nicholas got his arm raised, but he would rather that it happened on the mat.”

Two hours later, Perez squared off against Joe Andrade of Palma in the consolation bracket. Though he again got an early takedown, Perez found himself trailing after the first period. La Rosa elected to start Perez on the bottom in the second round, but that strategy didn’t work the way they hoped.

“I thought we needed to get an escape and we ended up getting pinned,” La Rosa said. “It’s just part of the sport.”

What followed was a three-hour van ride for Perez and La Rosa back to Hughson. The long drive alone gave them plenty of time to absorb not just Friday’s disappointment but to talk about what Perez needs to do to improve at the state level as a senior. He finished this year with a record of 45-11 and championships in multiple tournaments, but still has bigger goals he’d like to achieve.

“We had time to reflect on the year as a whole, not just the last tournament,” La Rosa said. “How much he’s grown. But quickly, it became, ‘How do we compete next year at a high level?’

“There’s a difference between qualifying and competing at a high level in the tournament. And that’s where he’s at. I think the biggest thing is mentally. … At the highest level. It’s very cutthroat. It’s win at all costs. The quicker he can get on that level, the physical part will follow.”

Perez cut quite a bit of weight to stay at 152 pounds this year. La Rosa projects him to wrestle at 170 next year after another offseason of hard workouts, weight training and a step up in competition in preseason tournaments. Perez doesn’t play any other sports, allowing him to focus full time on wrestling. Included in Perez’s plans is a third trip to the 10-day Camp of Champions in Sonora this summer, where national and international wrestlers push attendees to their limits.

“It’s six or seven hours a day on the mat and if you’re not on the mat, you’re probably out running,” said La Rosa, who believes Perez is poised to make the improvements that will allow him to enjoy even more success next season.

“You have to throw yourself into the fire. It’s his senior year. It’s his last rodeo, so you got to make the most of it,” La Rosa said. “The dedication definitely is there. That’s not an issue. The biggest thing is you’ve got to go through hell to win a wrestling match. That’s how to achieve the goals he wants to achieve.”

Perez is the first two-time State Meet qualifier for Hughson since 2006, when Billy Murphy capped his high school career with state and national championships.