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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Perez journeys from Quito, Ecuador to Grinnell, Iowa

Ever since Juan Carlos Perez ’11 picked up a tennis racket when he was 12, he hasn’t been able to put it down.

“Suddenly, after five months, I was practicing for three hours every day,” Perez said.

Within four years, at the age of 16, he won the national singles championship for the 18-and-under division in his home country of Ecuador. And then he did it again as an 18-year-old.

“I wasn’t ranked number one for very long ’cause I lost afterwards,” he said. “But I was ranked number one for maybe two months.”

When Perez joined the Grinnell men’s tennis team as a first-year last year, Coach Andy Hamilton ’85 started him at No. 2 singles. That year, Perez and the Pioneers won a fifth Midwest Conference Championship and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament, a Pioneer first.

There was no drop in the off-season as the Pioneers have continued where they left off. Grinnell is currently ranked eighth in the region, the highest they have ever been ranked this far into the season. While their 13-7 record might not jump out, they’ve played well against highly ranked competition.

“I pitched a pretty difficult schedule at the team,” Hamilton said. “I believe we’ve played ten matches against nationally ranked teams and we’re 3-7 in those matches, but what we’ve seen is the younger players have benefited by the difficult schedule and the veteran players have really stepped up.”

Although he’s just a second-year, Perez is one of the veterans Hamilton was talking about. He now plays at No. 1 singles in the lineup, and is ranked seventh in the region. The top eight players at the end of the season go to the Nationals.

“He’s definitely our leader on the court,” said Dan LaFountaine ’09, No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles. “He’s the guy that when we step out of the van and the other team looks over, that fear is put in their eyes as he comes walking on the court.”
Lafountaine was abroad for the first semester of last year, so Perez didn’t meet him until the spring semester. But through tennis season, he found had a connection with Lafountaine.

“Not only on the tennis court but off the tennis court, he’s been a really influential person on my life,” Perez said. “Whenever I want to practice a little more, I know I can call him and he’ll be there.”

This year, LaFountaine and Nate Fox ’09 are team captains and Perez’s most important role is to win his matches. But Perez does much more than that for the team.

“Juan is one of my best friends and one of my favorite people in the whole world,” LaFountaine said. “His commitment to us as teammates is both personal as well as tennis players. This year there seems to be something a little bit better, a little bit different. We have direction, we have excitement. That’s something that Juan brings.”

However, LaFountaine hasn’t been Perez’s only mentor. Perez grew up in Quito, Ecuador, the same city as another Grinnellian, Felipe Bautista ’06. Bautista played tennis at Grinnell and graduated in 2006 but came back over the summer for medical school.

“He happened to live five minutes away from my house,” Perez said. “He started coaching at my academy, so we became really good friends, and I had been in the process of applying to college at that point. He helped me out with all that stuff.”
Hamilton has coached all three players over the years and definitely sees the importance of LaFountaine and Bautista in Perez’s life.

“Inasmuch as Dan LaFountaine has been a great mentor to Juan since he’s been here,” Hamilton said. “Felipe has been an external mentor that pointed him in Grinnell’s direction.”

It comes at no surprise then that of all the great things that tennis has brought Perez, he values the friends he’s made.

“The best part of my tennis life is the people I’ve met: my coaches, and the people I’ve been surrounded by, tennis players,” Perez said.

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