The first time Issaquah head wrestling coach Kirk Hyatt met Jonathan Norris, one of them was certain the youngster would be a standout in the program.
It wasn’t Hyatt.
Norris would accompany his older brother to Issaquah practices and take in the atmosphere, sometimes chatting with Hyatt about his future as an Eagle. The brothers, who live in Preston, were both home-schooled, which meant Norris could actually join the team at the age when most are still in eighth grade.
“He said he was going to wrestle for me one of these days,” Hyatt said of a conversation when Norris was still two years younger than Hyatt’s freshmen. “When I asked him when, he said, ‘next year.'”
After a bit of persuasion and telling Norris in no uncertain terms about the challenges a younger athlete would face against prep competition, Hyatt agreed to bring him on-board.
“I remember I hated it,” Norris said of his first year. “I didn’t win a single match.”
The first year of his prep career was trying on the mat, but also helped forge a character that helped him to fourth place finish at regionals and sixth place at 4A state championships as a junior in 2012. Hyatt said after the difficult first season, Norris has been one of the most consistent and dedicated members of the program.
“He was one of those kids where you just wait and watch,” Hyatt said. “I feel really good about where he’s at.”
And Norris, who was named a captain by his coach to begin the year, isn’t the only senior hoping the shortfalls of the past were just preparation for one final run at the Mat Classic.
Jerdon Helgeson was a state alternate in 2012, but missed a chance at the postseason his freshman year after bringing an incorrect doctor’s note to the weigh-in. After fighting for a spot on the varsity throughout the year and making it to the JV qualifier, Helgeson was out of the tournament before even stepping on the mat.
“It was a whole new world,” Helgeson said of high school wrestling. “The gap from middle school to high school was huge and we were thrown into the fire. We learned a lot from our seniors that year.”
Following a similar path to Norris, Helgeson has steadily improved throughout his career with the Eagles. He was named a chief on this year’s team after he finished second at the KingCo tournament and was a state alternate after a sixth place finish at regionals last year and hopes to remain on that trajectory in his final season at Issaquah.
“I’ve definitely grown over the years,” he said. “The program, and coach Hyatt especially, have helped develop me into a strong wrestler.”
While Hyatt’s team has certainly made strides on the mat behind the a nucleus that also includes state qualifier Matt Solusod, the gains made in the community may be even greater.
Like many prep programs, Hyatt requires each of his members complete hours of community service throughout the year and participate in a number of fundraisers to help the operating budget.
Once again, Norris and Helgeson led the way.
Norris has easily logged more than 800 hours of community service during his time in the program, a total exponentially larger than the requirement. He said since he was a child, his family has volunteered at a food bank near their home, preparing and carrying bags and boxes of food for those in need.
“I like volunteering, no matter what it is,” he said. “I like helping other people.”
Helgeson took the lead on a holiday fundraiser recently, pacing his teammates and raising around $500 for the program through his sales. Hyatt said their contributions to the program far outweigh the wins and championships, though he added this is perhaps the best team he has fielded in the past five years.
Along with Norris, Solusod and Helgeson, returning KingCo champion Torre Eaton and regional qualifiers Louden Ivey and Spencer Tickman give Hyatt a number of wrestlers with postseason experience and a shot to defend their 4A KingCo Tournament title from last year.
“We definitely have the skill on this team,” Helgeson said. “I want another trophy with my name on it.”
Chief Jerdon Helgeson (left) and captain Jonathan Norris both hope to make a run at the final day of the Mat Classic in 2013. JOSH SUMAN, ISSAQUAH-SAMMAMISH REPORTER
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