As a 14-year-old freshman, Tim Noverini remembers exactly how he felt when he stepped onto the wrestling mat.
"I had a lot of anxiety," admitted Noverini. "One of the hardest things is to be calm and confident when you're basically a boy going up against opponents who are almost young men."
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When you're not yet old enough to own a driver's license but are matched up toe-to-toe with foes who shave on a regular basis, I can understand the need to bite your fingernails or maybe develop a nervous twitch or two.
"It can be intimidating," said Noverini. "I got smashed by a lot of people."
Three years later, Noverini is the one doing most of the smashing as a senior at St. Charles North.
In addition to his 12-0 record at 152 pounds, Noverini has already pocketed a pair of first-place tournament medals (Conant and Rockford East) and is ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, by illinoismatmen.com and illinoisgrappler.com.
A couple weeks ago, Noverini reached another milestone when he recorded the 100th victory of his high school career.
Noverini, however, isn't preoccupied with state rankings or career wins.
"I used to check out the rankings," said Noverini. "I did it a lot. But looking back, I felt that it never really helped me. It was wasted energy."
Competing at 125 pounds, Noverini held his own as a freshman, finishing with 21 wins and a fourth-place regional showing.
"It seems like yesterday when he was a freshman," said North Stars coach Ken Moromi. "That was a tough weight class with guys like (Glenbard North's) Tony Ramos."
The next season, Noverini came back with a little more experience under his belt and became a Class 3A state qualifier at 130 pounds, eventually finishing his sophomore campaign with a 37-9 record.
Last year, Noverini placed third in the rugged Glenbard North regional at 145 pounds and punched his second straight ticket to the state tournament with a fourth-place sectional showing before winning 1 of 3 matches in Champaign en route to a 34-7 mark.
Noverini displayed his toughness throughout his junior season, competing the final 2 months with a broken hand suffered right around winter break last December.
"It was pretty difficult," Noverini said of fighting through the injury. "There were things I couldn't do."
A lot of guys would have been sidelined by the injury.
Noverini wasn't one of them.
"It was pretty amazing to watch," said Moromi. "And I never saw him complain about it. I think it helped make him a better, stronger person.
"It was a long road last year," added the coach. "I'm sure it was hard for him because some of the guys he had beaten before wound up placing in the state tournament."
Wrestling seems a natural fit for Noverini, who first began competing in the sport 10 years ago.
"It's a family affair," said Moromi.
"Wrestling has always been big on my mom's side of the family," said Noverini. "My dad (Tim) is the only one on his side of the family to wrestle. He wrestled at East Leyden (for Hall of Fame coach Chuck Farina).
"The decision to wrestle was all on my own," said Noverini. "I started doing it because it was what my cousins were doing. My family has always been very supportive. During my freshman year, I got obsessed with it."
Tim's uncle, Randy, was an Illinois state champion while at East Leyden (at 126 pounds in 1978) who went on to become a two-time collegiate All-American at Iowa State. Another uncle, Bud, also wrestled at East Leyden and now serves as an assistant coach at St. Charles North, while a cousin, Gary, is also a North Stars assistant.
"That first year when Tim wrestled downstate, I was really amazed at how much support he had from his family," said Moromi. "He had truly amazing, positive support from his grandparents to his parents to his uncles and cousins.
"Sometimes you see some crazy parents out there but that is so far from what his family is all about," added Moromi.
Noverini relies on his roots as a homefield advantage of sorts.
"It's a great thing because I always have access to someone if I need help with something," said Tim. "I watch film of my matches all the time and go over them with my coaches."
"I think it gives him an edge," said Moromi. "Tim has the unique ability to take something from every coach and every person in his life and apply it. He's open-minded and really listens. He's a true student of the game."
His goals are simple but lofty ones.
"I want to win a state title," said Noverini, who plans on dropping to the 145-pound weight class in the upcoming weeks. "There's no question in my mind that I can make it to the finals."
"Our goal is to win a state championship," said Moromi. "We think he's got the talent and mental toughness to do it."
Only time will tell whether Noverini becomes St. Charles North's first individual state wrestling champion.
"The main difference that I see in Tim this year is his added strength," said Moromi. "He's starting to get adult-like strength."
I'm betting that will create some anxious moments for his opponents down the road.