BY JEREMY HINES
If it were all about heart, Bloomington South’s Noah Hunt would likely be a multiple time state champion. But, in life and on the wrestling mat, sometimes heart isn’t enough.
Hunt grew up around wrestling. He was naturally gifted in the sport and he spent many nights fine tuning his craft. But, in sixth grade, he decided he had enough. The love just wasn’t there like it used to be.
“I was burned out,” Hunt said. “I quit.”
Soon Hunt realized that quitting wasn’t part of his character. Being away from the sport showed him how much he actually loved it. Midway through the seventh grade season he returned to wrestling.
“I came back with a new mentality,” Hunt said. “I was ready to go. I was ready to get better than ever.”
Hunt pushed his body to the limits for the sport. His sophomore year that hard work started to pay dividends. He won sectional and regional and advanced to the Evansville semistate at 120 pounds. That’s when Hunt’s journey of pain, frustration and a quest for redemption began.
In the first round of the semistate Hunt hurt his knee. He was nine seconds into his match with Eastern’s Robbie Stein. Hunt shot in and grabbed Stein’s leg. As he was lifting it in the air to secure the single, he stepped wrong and twisted his knee. He knew he was in pain, but he continued to compete.
Hunt ended up winning that match in dominating fashion, 9-1. His knee did not feel right, and he knew it - but he had put too much work in to give up. If he was going to get to state, he had to wrestle through the pain and win the next match.
Hunt punched his ticket to state the next round, beating Center Grove’s Zak Siddiqui 12-1.
Hunt ended up finishing fourth at the semistate, winning two matches with a severely injured knee. He couldn’t wait to wrestle at state the next week. It was a dream come true for him - at least that’s what he thought.
The knee injury ended up being worse than Hunt expected. Doctors did an MRI and determined he had completely torn his ACL in his left knee. As much as he begged and pleaded to be able to wrestle at state, the doctors would not release him.
“It was a terrible feeling,” Hunt said. “I knew I could wrestle on it, and win. But I wasn’t allowed to.”
For Hunt, the road to recovery was a long, painful one. It took six months for him to be fully back to wrestling condition. He missed the entire summer of workouts. He knew while his competition was working on improving - he was working on getting back to the level he was previously.
Still, Hunt had a goal to return better than ever - and he did just that.
As a junior Hunt had more regular season losses than he did his sophomore year - but by tournament time he was clicking on all cylinders. He won the sectional and regional at 126 pounds. Then, at semistate, he defeated North Posey’s Cameron Fisher, Center Grove’s Peyton Pruett and Evansville Mater Dei’s Matt Lee in succession. He lost the semistate championship to Graham Rooks, 8-3.
Hunt won his night match at state, guaranteeing him a placement in the top 8. He beat Ft. Wayne Carroll’s Joel Byman in that night round, but then lost back-to-back matches to Michael DeLaPena and Jordan Slivka.
The only thing left for Hunt to wrestle for was seventh or eighth place. There was only one problem - he had hurt his right knee in the previous match. He recognized the feeling, it was almost the same as he had the year before.
He decided to wrestle anyway, knowing the pain he was in. This time around, Matt Lee won the match 6-3 - giving Hunt 8th place in the state.
A few days later he got the news that he had feared - he had torn his ACL. Six more months of recovery. Six more months of watching everyone else get better. Six more months off the mat.
“I just had to focus on what my ultimate goal was,” Hunt said. “I couldn’t feel sorry for myself. I knew I had to work in order to make the most of my senior year.”
Hunt’s mom, Melissa, didn’t want him wrestling again. She thought it wasn’t worth it.
“She was worried about me hurting myself again,” Hunt said. “I told her I’m sorry, but I have to do it. She wasn’t super thrilled, but she knew this was something I just had to do.”
This season Hunt is ranked No. 18 at 138 pounds. He is 32-3 and coming off a dominating sectional performance where he won the championship by eight points.
“A state title is pretty much his goal,” Bloomington South coach Mike Runyon said. “We set that goal early on in his career and despite everything he’s went through, that’s still his goal.”
Hunt has spent a full year of his high school life recovering from knee injuries. He said the hardest part of returning to the sport was getting his mat awareness back. Once he did that, he feels he’s ready to get the job done.
“I never had the thought that this isn’t worth it,” Hunt said. “All I see is wrestling, wrestling, wrestling. I’ve been pushing it as hard as I can. I’ve lost a few. But, if that’s what it takes to make my goals happen, then so be it. I’m there mentally and physically now. If I beat the kids ranked higher than me, some might think it’s an upset - but I won’t. I think I can wrestle with anyone and win.”
Bloomington South is a school rich in wrestling tradition. Pictures of past state champions line the wrestling room - a constant reminder of those that have claimed the state’s ultimate prize. Hunt says he looks at those pictures every day, and every day dreams his will be there as well. If so, perhaps no other wrestler in school history has had to overcome as much as he has to get that prize.