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Norvell goes from newbie to state favorite

The first time Sydney Norvell stepped into the Ashland High mat room for a practice, she wasn’t quite sure what she had gotten herself into. She found out soon enough.

“I remember it was an unusual situation with all the guys there, but everybody was so supportive,” she said. “It was a fun practice and I knew that it was going to be a really big challenge. But it was really rewarding.”

Less than two years later Norvell is within striking distance of achieving the ultimate reward for a high school wrestler – a state championship. As the top-ranked 138-pound girls wrestler in the state, the senior is the favorite to capture the gold medal in the state tournament, which begins today and wraps up Saturday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

Norvell is one of four wrestlers — two boys and two girls — who will be representing the Grizzlies at state. The others are senior Chris Bowland (160) and junior Liam Weston (220) in the boys’ tournament, and sophomore Joanne Lemley, seeded third at 145, in the girls’.

Norvell has always been an athlete, but is relatively new to the sport of wrestling. She competed in gymnastics before high school, has competed for the AHS track and field team and has been a standout goalie for the Ashland High girls soccer team, earning second-team all-Midwestern League as a senior. She decided to give wrestling a shot last school year and in doing so inspired other girls to do the same.

A fan of contact sports, Norvell enjoyed the physicality from the start.

“The biggest challenge for me was probably just pushing through the practices,” she said. “I hadn’t had anything that demanding, both physically and mentally.”

Norvell’s adjusted well. After placing third at 132 last season she’s come on even stronger this season and enters the state tournament with a 14-6 record and big-time momentum after dominating the regional tournament with three pins.

Ashland High wrestling coach Tony Champion, who’s slated to become Southern Oregon University’s first women’s wrestling coach next winter, says Norvell is a quick study and a well-rounded athlete, which has helped her pick up the sport in a hurry.

“I would say that she has a very good, solid style,” Champion said. “She’s very aggressive for a girl, and she’s actually turned into a very good technician, so she has very good technique and she’s a very smart wrestler.”

Previous results suggest Norvell has the potential to roll through the bracket and collect a gold medal Saturday night. She throttled the defending state champion in her weight class with a 16-1 decision earlier this season, prompting that wrestler to switch weight classes. But Champion says entering state as the No. 1 wrestler isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

“It can be a good place, but it’s also a bad place,” he said, “because they’ve got you in the bulls eye. But I think she’s handling it very well. They’re going to be gunning for her.”

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Norvell added. “I know anything can happen so I can’t go in overconfident.”

Bowland will face top-seeded Colton Sallee of Lebanon in the opening round, while Weston will face unseeded Jesse Wynn of Lebanon in the first round. 

Matches can be followed via live scoring at trackwrestling.com.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or jzavala@dailytidings.com.