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First time's the charm: Northern Nash's Sullivan makes history with tournament finish

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Northern Nash wrestler Sidney Sullivan, 15, poses while wearing her NCHSAA third place medal on Tuesday at Northern Nash High School. Sullivan placed third in her weight class on Saturday during the inaugural NCHSAA Women’s Wrestling Invitational Tournament in Winston-Salem.

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BY SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

When Northern Nash’s Sidney Sullivan was a seventh-grader at Red Oak Middle School, after a few inquiries directed toward her father, Rodney, who also went to Northern Nash, she found out he was both a high school wrestler and football player.

The football part didn’t interest her much, but the wrestling part was intriguing enough to go ahead and try out for the middle school team.

She even convinced four other girls to try out the sport with her.

Since, that list of five, because of other sports or other personal reasons, has dwindled down to just Sullivan, now a freshman for the Knights, who has carried on with wrestling undeterred.

This season, Sullivan was the only girl on the Knights’ team, and the only girl wrestler in the Big East to make it to the state invitational this past weekend.

So, a lot of regional pride was following her on Saturday, when her, her mother, Tammy, and Northern Nash’s assistant coach Bryan Sweet loaded up Sweet’s car and headed to the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex for the first-ever NCHSAA Women’s Wrestling Invitational Tournament. (More than 300 girls were on wrestling rosters last year, according to High School OT, but the state-wide tournament was the first of its kind.)

In the end, with her mother and coach watching intently, Sullivan finished third in the 12-girl bracket of the 126-pound division, ending the day with an official 4-1 record, good for a bronze medal and a nice piece of history, being the first girl in the Big East — or the Twin Counties — to place at state-wide meet.

“Her being a freshman, to be at the first state tournament and a top qualifier for women’s states, that was making history in itself,” Sweet said. “That made a big statement to finish in the top three as a freshman. A lot of people are going to look at this in the community and let her be a role model, maybe now some other little girls will want to take place in wrestling.”

During the drive west to Winston-Salem, it was mostly just business as usual for Sullivan — another day of wrestling.

But when she walked in the arena?

“It was more excitement than being nervous, because I love wrestling,” she said. “Then, when I walked in it was awe of the place. It was bigger than anywhere I had wrestled before, with all the people there. But as soon as I get on the mat and the whistle blows, I just ignore everything and start focusing, trying to look for my coach, have him talk to me.”

Sullivan earned the top qualifying spot in the 126-pound division by turning in a 5-4 record throughout the season, which came with a first-round bye Saturday.

In the next round, she won by fall over Broughton’s Tonya Flournory. Then, in the semifinals, she lost this time by fall to Knightdale’s Morgan Pressley, meaning her best hope was a third-place finish.

“I was kind of disappointed and mad at myself,” Sullivan said. “I just had to go forward and stay focused, stay positive.”

Indeed, she was able to regain an edge, winning next her match, the consolation semifinals, setting her up with a final match and a chance at third against East Henderson’s Jacey King.

“The most exciting was the last match,” Sweet said.

It was a close one throughout, with King eventually doing just enough to roll Sullivan over.

The result suddenly looked ominous. Sweet yelled for Sullivan to do the same to her opponent.

She did, and she ended up pinning her for the third-place-clinching victory.

The ref raised her arm in victory, and the celebration was on.

“She looked at me and jumped up and down. I ran over to the mat and hugged her. We were both just yelling and screaming,” Sweet said, laughing. “A lot of people don’t understand how cool a moment that was.”

Sullivan did, at least.

“I was just — I was so excited. First thing I did was I looked up at my coach and gave him a hug,” Sullivan said. “I just had a giant smile. I was overwhelmed with being excited.”

It was a fitting to end to a constructive first year for Sullivan, who still has three years to improve on her finish on Saturday. It was positive in terms of her teammates, too, who were supportive of her from start to finish despite being the only girl on the team, both her and Sweet pointed out.

For good measure, though, she might spend some time between now and the start of next season putting in some recruiting work, like when was at Red Oak.

“I might try, but I’m OK with being the only girl,” Sullivan said. “But if I do, that would be really cool.”

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