Newport's Norton shows character

Everything you need to know about Tatum Norton can be found in the recent decision she made for college.

Alabama had offered the Newport Harbor High senior a scholarship to play volleyball for the Crimson Tide. She said it was a three-year scholarship, something rare when it comes to the position Norton plays.

Norton is a libero, a defender who must also provide accurate passing. An NCAA Division I scholarship for a libero? It almost seemed too good to be true. Apparently it seemed to be too easy for Norton. She wanted more. She wanted a higher level of competition.

After visiting Alabama, she said she wanted to visit one more college. She found what she was looking for at Oregon.

Everything felt right about life with the Ducks. Turning down such a great scholarship offer from Alabama made sense. She committed to Oregon Feb. 27 and will be competing as a walk-on.

"I really liked Oregon; I just had a gut feeling," Norton said, while sitting near the anchor at Newport Harbor on Friday. "I saw UCLA. I went to a few other schools, but I liked Oregon the best. I did like Alabama a lot. The volleyball program there is great. But I wanted to see one more school and it was Oregon."

Norton said she has been told she will have an opportunity to earn a scholarship at Oregon her sophomore through senior years. She said next year there will be at least one senior playing the libero spot for the Ducks.

"I'm still going to try to compete for the starting spot as a freshman against the senior," Norton said.

There she goes again, showing that competitive fire. She said she build that type of fighting spirit, growing up as a tomboy. She played against the boys in basketball and hockey. She tagged along with her older brother, Parker, who was named Newport-Mesa Player of the Year in football as a senior in 2010.

She also excelled in soccer.

She found her favorite sport in volleyball. She played outside hitter for a bit and then moved to setter. Then while everyone grew, she stayed at the same height. The 5-foot-5 Norton moved to libero. The role suits her well.

She's in the background, behind the scenes, working hard, digging to save the team and passing to give her team a fighting chance.

Charlie Brande, who coaches Norton on the Orange County Volleyball Club 18s team, has seen Norton's competitiveness continue to build. She plays on a team with Cinnamon Sary and Kasey Thompson, who both also played for Newport Harbor. Sary has committed to USC and Thompson is bound for Hawaii Pacific.

"We played this weekend and three major college coaches were ecstatic about [Norton] and the way she plays," said Brande, who is also an assistant for the Newport Harbor girls' team. "She just takes care of business. She's about the team and about winning."

Norton wasn't as successful a year ago. She admitted she got a bit burned out with the amount of time and dedication she devoted to volleyball. It happens. Young athletes are sometimes pushed to the limit and come at a crossroads.

Norton also struggled to connect with Dan Glenn during her junior year. But that all changed this year.

Glenn let Norton find her own way and she did. Her play from club transferred well for the Sailors. She helped Newport Harbor reach the CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA title match. She earned All-CIF Division 1-AA honors as well as Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team accolades.

Norton gives much of the credit to Brande and Glenn.

"Having two great coaches helped a lot," Norton said. "Having Charlie Brande as a coach, he really helped my volleyball become a success. And, Coach Glenn too. They have both have helped me improve my game so much."

Norton will carry on what she learned in college. She knows for as hard as she worked this past year, she will need to work even harder in Oregon.

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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