Noelle Acosta recently took first-place finishes at the USA Judo Youth National Championships in Colorado Springs last month. (Submitted photo)

NYSSA – It’s hard to sneak anything unexpected on Noelle Acosta’s daily schedule.

The 16-year-old Nyssa High School junior is a three-sport star, winning state honors in class 3A wrestling, playing on the school’s soccer team and competing nationally in martial arts.

When she’s not practicing or competing, she’s busy seeing how high she can take his grade point average.

In between studies and school team practices, Acosta has leveraged success as one of the country’s toughest judo elites.

She won two age brackets in the 70-kilogram weight division at the Judo Youth National Championships, held March 8-10 in Colorado Springs.

“She finished in first place for both the Cadet and Junior championships,” said Michael Eldred, head judo instructor at the Western Idaho Judo Institute in Ontario. He said the cadet bracket includes athletes between 15 and 17, and the junior bracket is for those between 18 and 20. 

“So being first at both puts her at the top for athletes between those ages,” he said.

Now, the teen is ready to compete in the international arena.

As a member of the national team, Acosta will represent the U.S. at the 2019 Pan American Championships in Colombia in July, the 2019 World Cadet Championships in Kazakhstan in September and the 2019 IJF World Junior Championship in Morocco in October.

Acosta started grappling when she was 5. She said her father had been studying judo and wanted Acosta and her brother to practice with him.  

“At first I didn’t want to do it, but I’m glad my dad pushed me toward doing it,” she said. 

Eventually, she fell in love with the style of the sport. It seemed like a physical game of chess as opponents try to pin each other to score a single winning point. 

For Acosta, the movements, balance and pace of judo felt right.

It’s also not in her nature to back down from a challenge without giving it her best effort – a trait that helps make her a successful competitor.

“One of her strong points is her work ethic,” said Eldred, who has coached Acosta for the last four years. “She’s very good on the ground. From chokes to arm-bars, she’s very good at all of those on the mat.”

To be a competitive at judo, an athlete needs to be physically and mental strong, said Eldred. Judo athletes also have to adhere to a strict diet to stay within their weight classes. 

“It involves a lot of discipline and work,” said Eldred. 

Acosta follows a strict routine before every competition. She gets plenty of rest the night before. On the day of a match, she showers, puts up her hair tight, and warms up with some “mental training.”

“It’s stuff that I’ve learned to do from past experience. I focus on my match and what I want to work on, and what I hope to get out of it,” said Acosta. “I have a certain phrase that I say to myself to help me calm down my nerves.”

Acosta is also an accomplished female wrestler.

She said it was natural for her to gravitate to the sport of wrestling. 

“It’s pretty similar to judo. It’s just a little bit more aggressive,” said Acosta. “There are certain rules that are different, but other than that it’s pretty much the same strike. They’re kind of all in the same family.”

She finished third in the all-girls 152 weight division at the OSAA girls championship tournament last month.

As part of the vaunted Nyssa Bulldogs wrestling team, Acosta is rapidly adding to her skills and adjusting her decade of judo to a sport she hopes to continue into college.

Acosta also wants to inspire other girls to try out wrestling – or sports in general. 

“I feel like a lot of girls should try to do wrestling, judo or whatever sport,” she said. “I’m very comfortable with my weight and I feel like a lot of judo and wrestling has given me that self-esteem. So I feel it’s really good for girls to try those things out so that they have that kind of confidence in themselves.”

Acosta, a daughter of an Oregon State Police detective and a movie theater employee,

said one of the reasons she joined wrestling is to help pay for college. 

“I can’t afford to go to college or university based on my family’s income,” she said. “I was looking for different ways to help me pay for college.”

Acosta said her goal is to be selected for the women’s wrestling team at Eastern Oregon University, where she hopes to study nursing.

“I think that’s a good example of how wrestling and sports can help young women go through college,” said Acosta. 

But most of all, she finds sports empowering.

“I feel like a lot of girls need to be in sports. It’s a good distraction from other things like thinking about negative things in life,” said Acosta. “I think it gives you a good positive attitude. And it makes you feel good and accomplished.”

For the latest news, follow the Enterprise on Facebook and Twitter.

TRY A FREE SAMPLE – You can see for yourself the kind of local news reporting produced by the Malheur Enterprise with a news team focused exclusively on news that's important to you. You can read us for free for 30 days. Signing up is easy and then you have 24/7 access to our reports. Sign up HERE. Or you can support some of the nation's best journalism by subscribing to our digital news service for $5 a month, easy and automatic. Subscribe HERE.