MONROE – Less than a week before her first Valentine’s Day as a high school student, Aurora Efird had already felt all of the love she was going to need for the week.
Efird and her freshman cohort Savannah Bramhall had just won state wrestling championships and they were getting the royal treatment Feb. 8 as they pulled through Rough Edge and into the Parkwood High parking lot, led by county sheriffs with their lights on escorting the newly crowned champs home.
“Our whole team got a police escort coming in,” Efird said. “When we got off the bus, our friends and families were all there and they painted the rock for us. It was just so cool. I’ve never felt so loved.”
A budding friendship, rivalry
Knowing Efird and Bramhall, it’s not shocking by any means that the two have already climbed to the highest echelon of girls wrestling.
When it comes to competing, they’ve always pushed each other.
“We’ve known each other since sixth grade, and it’s always been something,” Bramhall said. “We played on the same soccer team and she was more experienced with soccer, but I would get so mad because she knew more than I did. It also made me better because she was my practice partner. But, we’ve always been very competitive.”
Efird said she recalls another set of common occurrences after she was getting the better of Bramhall on the soccer field.
“I remember every day after practice she’d always say, ‘Let’s race. Let’s race.,” Efird said. “I was like, “OK, fine, but when are you going to stop asking me?’ She used to always say whenever she could beat me was when she’d stop, but that’s just her.”
Efird laughed and said that Bramhall never did beat her in the post-race sprint sessions, but the two developed a lasting bond during the process. Plus, a rivalry that has carried over onto the mat.
“They’re really good practice partners, but at the same time, they’re rivals in everything that they do,” Parkwood wrestling coach Chris Linthicum. “That’s a big reason why they got to the podium together. It’s a rivalry, but it’s a good rivalry. There’s no high school girl drama, but they push each other and we hope that continues.”
Riding the girls wrestling wave
Parkwood’s Amber Parker, now a freshman softball player at Western Carolina, won the school’s first state title last year, the first season girls had their own wrestling division.
“She gave us a name here at Parkwood,” Bramhall said. “Being the first state champion at Parkwood, Amber Parker is Parkwood. Now when they see Parkwood girls wrestling they know we’re doing something right.”
While the Rebels have developed a knack for producing girls state champions, these two have come from different backgrounds to reach their goal.
Efird has a mixed-martial arts background and came up through the Parkwood Middle School feeder program.
She went 17-3 this season wrestling at 120 pounds most of the year, although she decided to move up to 126, which girls can weigh up to 130, in the state tournament.
“The way I feel, this is my first year,” Efird said. “I feel like this is the year I’m learning new information and able to put moves together. I didn’t really have that much background. I had jiu-jitsu, but this has helped me out a lot.”
Bramhall has older brothers who wrestled at Parkwood and has wrestling in her family, although she’s new to the sport, only taking to the mat about a year ago.
Still, she won the Holy Angels title (Efird was third) and went 16-5 at 152 pounds this year.
The Holy Angels was one of a handful of tournaments in the area to have girls-only tournaments of their own, something that is very new and even more exciting.
“The really cool thing is we’re hitting women’s wrestling at a really cool time,” Linthicum said. “Last year, we had Amber Parker win states, and she had all of her matches except two or three against guys. This year, they went to three girls tournaments, and that’s where they got most of their matches. They only had probably five or six matches against boys all year. It was mostly them wrestling girls. It was awesome, and it really got them ready for the state tournament.”
Their time to shine
The state tournament is unlike anything the girls see all year in terms of size, fan volume and expectations.
Bramhall got a first-round bye, won by pin and then an 8-3 decision to get to the finals, where she faced Montgomery Central’s Jamira Jackson, her biggest rival.
The two had wrestled two close matches already this year, and the final was no difference with Bramhall taking a razor-close 9-8 decision to claim the title.
Efird didn’t have any familiar faces or girls to overcome since she had just moved up a weight class for the final.
“I ended up having all new girls,” she said. “In my opinion, it was more difficult to wrestle up. I didn’t know any of the girls and I didn’t know what to expect. It was a whole new experience. Everything was new.”
She handled it well. Efird had two falls in under 1:11 and a 12-4 major decision to reach the final. There, she pinned Richland’s Shelyn Williams in 1:42 to claim the title.
With the titles, Efird and Bramhall will get to walk with all of the boys and the other girl champions next week at the Parade of Champions in Greensboro, a huge honor.
“It’s a new experience,” Efird said. “It’s odd, but it’s also special. We were partners and now we’ve won states together. That’s what shocks me the most. We pushed each other all season, every practice.”
Even when they were mad at each other or getting annoyed with the results that day, they kept at each other, Bramhall said, making their championship that much more special.
With three years left of high school wrestling and a new generation now looking up at the Rebels’ newest state champs as inspiration, they hope to continue pushing each other to be great wrestlers and role models.
“This is my first year, but I’m hoping to win all four years and go to college to wrestle,” Bramhall said. “I also want to get my sister started. She’s in sixth grade and she looks up to me, she looks up to (Efird) and she looks up to Amber. She’s starting so early and she can do so much better than I did as a freshman. I want her to have a good opportunity and I want to help provide that here.”