Success hasn't come easily for Tyler Schwartz.
The Valparaiso senior had more than his share of detours on his way to Saturday's Merrillville Semistate, but never lost track of his destination.
"I saw the light at the end of the tunnel," Schwartz said. "I just stuck with it to eventually be where I am now. I'm looking to go state and (regionals) was a good step toward that."
After toiling on JV for two years, when he weighed less than 100 pounds, Schwartz won the varsity spot at 106 as a junior. During the season, he sprained an ankle and lost the spot in a wrestle-off on his return.
"I used it as a big motivator," he said. "Without that, I wouldn't have worked as hard in the offseason. I didn't want to have the same feeling at the same time this year."
When teammate Max Buckley suffered a knee injury last winter, Schwartz filled his spot at 113 for the state tournament and made it to the regional.
"It wasn't a very long experience, but it really helped going into the regional (this year)," Schwartz said. "I knew what to expect. I knew how important that first match was. I didn't feel as much pressure."
A third-place finisher in the Crown Point Sectional, Schwartz (33-13) won his first match to ensure a top-four placing. He then upset the Bulldogs' Riley Akers 3-0 in the semifinals, reversing two previous defeats, to reach the finals, where he lost 10-3 to New Prairie's Chris Trent.
"Tyler's a kid who's a great example of what you can make of yourself with hard work and determination, without having great God-given talent," Valpo coach Jim Smith said. "He's one of those kids you just love to coach. He's never late. He never misses practice. He never complains. He just listens, does whatever you ask and tries to get better."
What Schwartz lacks in girth, he makes up for in length and smarts. He did so well on his preseason baseline test that after he sustained a mild concussion in November, he couldn't match the score, a prerequisite to being cleared. A specialist had to confirm Schwartz was OK to return.
"I'm a pretty quick learner," Schwartz said. "I can process stuff quickly."
At 5-foot-10, Schwartz is also taller than most 106s.
"There aren't too many seniors in my weight class," he said. "I've towered over some guys. The biggest thing that helps me is I have longer arms and legs. I can reach and get to angles that shorter, smaller guys can't."
Schwartz's progress has mirrored Valpo's. Near the bottom of the Duneland Athletic Conference just a few years ago, it finished fourth this season, in addition to seconds at the sectional and regional. Schwartz was one of eight semistate qualifiers.
"Tyler sets a great example for the younger guys," Smith said. "He has goals and he tries to achieve them every day."
The 3.96 student is an academic all-state nominee. He will attend IU, where he plans to major in secondary education. In addition to teaching, he aspires to be a wrestling coach.
"All the seniors, when we all came in as freshmen, the program wasn't very good," Schwartz said. "Every year, it's gotten better. It really shows the true leaders the seniors are, the coaches, everybody involved. It's going to be fun to see where it will go from here. I hope to come back and see how far they've come."