At 5 feet 3 inches tall and 127 pounds soaking wet, 13-year-old Nyssa eighth-grader Noelle Acosta may not look intimidating, but at a moment’s notice, she can take you down without batting an eyelash.
Over the last eight years, she has become a prolific judo competitor.
“For her age she’s very strong, but she also has a really hard work ethic,” coach Michael Eldred said. “That’s hard to find in younger competitors. She also has some techniques that not a lot of people have.”
Acosta began doing judo at the age of 5.
“My dad did training in judo, so he signed both my brother and I up for judo,” Acosta said.
Since then she has accrued a number of accomplishments, including a purple belt in judo and a junior national championship.
“It’s been exciting to see her from 5 years old to grow up to the level she’s at now,” her mother Veronica Acosta said. “I love the competition in her.”
Acosta’s drive led her to Eldred’s dojo, Western Idaho Judo Institute in Fruitland, nearly three years ago. Eldred is a former judo competitor who qualified as an alternate for the U.S. Olympic team in 2012. Under his tutelage, Acosta has been able to take her game to the next level.
For the last two years, Acosta has been selected, per Eldred’s recommendation, to participate in the Sanix International Youth Judo Team Tourn-ament in Japan. The tournament features competitors from all over the world between the ages of 12 and 14.
Eldred said he recommended Acosta because she met certain criteria.
“For me, with Noelle’s grades and how she works out on the mat, it was an easy recommendation for me to put her up for it,” he said.
Acosta said her first year at the tournament was eye-opening.
“I was pretty nervous the first time I went, and it’s the toughest tournament I have been a part of so far,” Acosta said. “But I ended up learning a lot of new things.”
Before the actual tournament began, she took part in a two-day training camp.
“I got to know the players before the tournament, so that was really nice,” Acosta said.
She lost her match, and the team was eliminated in the first round of the open weight tournament by the tournament’s reigning champions.
“It was really terrifying because the girls were 95 kilos [209 pounds], so they were a lot bigger than us,” Acosta said.
She found herself back at the same tournament last month. With more experience, Acosta and her team had a much better showing.
They made it into the second round, and Acosta left the tournament with a win, a tie and one loss.
“I was confident going in because I had trained really hard to get there,” Acosta said. “I was also more confident in my abilities because I had learned so much since the last time.”
Her coach said he was impressed with her tournament showing.
“From last year’s trip to this year’s trip, it was a big improvement,” Eldred said. “She did better at the training camp, the tournament and became the leader of the team.”
Due to the age cutoff, Acosta is uncertain if she will be able to go again next year.
“I know I’m going to be too old to compete next year,” Acosta said. “But sometimes they let you still go. They might let me go, I’m not sure.”
In the meantime, Acosta plans on continuing practicing and competing in judo through high school. She has a goal of getting her black belt before she graduates.
Acosta’s next tournament is Saturday’s Ore-Ida Judo Club Open Invitational at the John J. Easley Gymnasium in Ontario, a tournament she has won six times.
On Saturday, she will be competing in both the 13-14 and 15-16 age brackets.
“It’s a good competition to have here locally to display judo,” Acosta said.
For those thinking about following in her footsteps, she had this advice to give.
“You just have to put in the work,” Acosta said. “Go to practice, even if you’re tired and don’t want to.”