Montini Catholic congratulates freshman wrestler, Katelyn (Kat) Bell (100 lb, Naperville), on being the Bronco's first female wrestler to compete in the inaugural Illinois High School Association Girls Wrestling State Series*. She is also the first lady Bronco to qualify for the IHSA Girls Individual State Wrestling Championship (held on February 25-26 at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington).
Kat has been wrestling her entire life, but her true involvement in the sport started as a seventh grader at Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville. "This is technically my first year wrestling. I was on the (Patriots) Wrestling Team for a few months, but that was it."
It is her father, Pat Bell '96 (photo on left), and uncle, Terry Bell' 98, both alumni and former wrestlers at Montini Catholic, who inspired her to pursue her interest in the sport. (After Montini, Pat Bell went on to wrestle at North Central College.) "My dad definitely got me into wrestling. We would watch the college matches on TV together when I was little. He coaches at Naperville Centrals Wrestling Club and I remember he would always bring me to the meets when my younger brother (Jack) was competing. He really inspires me because of how much he loves wrestling and I’m very grateful to always have him in my corner at tournaments."
Kat currently perfects her skills at Montini's Stampede Wrestling Club. The club, for advanced training in various wrestling styles, with a more comprehensive curriculum and competition, is a first at Montini and was initiated under the leadership of new Head Coach Pernevlon Sheppard and Montini Athletic Director, Brian Casey.
She admits that upon joining her Bronco team earlier in the school year she was a little intimidatedon being the only girl on the team. However, her fears were quashed quickly, once she met her teammates. "The boys on my team are extremely supportive and helpful, nobody, whether it was coaches or teammates, treated me any different because I’m a girl!" Coach Sheppard's passionate approach to coaching his Broncos this season has greatly enhanced Kat's progress as well. "My experience with the team and Coach Sheppard was extremely positive, I feel I learned a lot this season and improved a lot from the first high school match I wrestled."
Recalling her road to State, Kat was determined to keep a positive attitude. At the Sectionals she won her first match. "I lost the second match against a girl who had a lot more experience than me," she said, remembering that she was extremely upset with her performance. "I was then thrown into wrestle backs, but the rest of the time I was wrestling I kept thinking in my head, 'you can't afford to lose another match,' 'you’ve worked hard to get this far,' 'you deserve to be here!' When I ended up winning the match for 3rd Place (over Kameyah Young, East Aurora), I was so happy because I knew I had qualified for State!"
"Competing at the first IHSA girls sanctioned State Championship was amazing! The girls there were very friendly. Since I was the only girl from my school and didn’t have a teammate to warm up with, girls from other schools would ask if we could warm up together which was really helpful. It was definitely a learning experience wrestling down at State!"
Luck was not on her side, however, when she was matched up with a senior wrestler (Rebecca Ferguson, Rock Island High School) for her first round. "Once again I lost to someone with more experience than I, but I was able to shake it off and get mentally prepared for wrestle backs!" She was then, coincidentally, matched up with a girl who she had lost to in a tournament earlier in the year. "I knew I had improved a lot since then so I wasn’t nervous about losing. I ended up getting my fastest pin this season at 20 seconds!"
She was then paired with Ava Anderson from Homewood-Flossmoor who she had beaten before in a finals match during the Hoffman Estates Championship earlier in the season. "I remembered what it was like to wrestle her, but I knew that she also knew what it was like to wrestle me. I pinned her in the 3rd period with an ankle pick which is my number one takedown and I usually try to hit it in most of my matches." Katelyn's competitor, having knowledge of her takedown techniques, was prepared and fought a good fight, but in the end, Katelyn claimed the victory 11-3. "I had one more match left in order to place, but I didn't wrestle my hardest and lost." She took the loss hard, but quickly bounced back with the right attitude. " Because of this experience, I know what I am up against and I will use it as fuel to work harder!"
Kat's immediate plans for wrestling is to find success inthe freestyle season. "Next year I plan on making it back and taking a State title. I really hope that we can also get some more girls into the wrestling room and hopefully get a girls team going!" It is certain that her experience and success this year on the team and as the first Bronco female wrestler to qualify for State will inspire other young women to take to the mat.
"We are extremely proud of Kat's accomplishments on the mat this season," said Athletic Director, Brian Casey. "When you are a part of a historic program like the one Montini Catholic has built, there aren't too many 'firsts' left to achieve, but Kat was able to become the programs first ever competitor in IHSA Girls Wrestling and the first Girls State Qualifier and that is a testament to her tremendously hard work and dedication to the sport. We are excited to watch her compete for the next three years in our program as she continues her quest toward a State Championship."
*This season, Illinois became the 28th state to sanction girls wrestling as a sport, occurring on the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, according to Team USA Wrestling. Currently, there are 32 states that have girls wrestling as a sanctioned high school sport.