Belle Harrell’s party was loose and cheerful under Mizzou Arena, joking with her as she prepared to try reaching a pinnacle of sorts in her young wrestling career. But as she was sent to line up for the grand march with the other girls wrestlers at Saturday’s MSHSAA finals, she appeared uncharacteristically quiet — perhaps uncharacteristically nervous.
One person from the Hickman junior’s following took notice and tracked her down just in time before she lined up.
“Hey,” J’den Cox told Harrell. “By the way, Jaydin, Brock and Jarrett all won their matches.”
The MU wrestling team was taking on No. 2 Oklahoma State across the street. Harrell couldn’t watch her friends on the team, though, because of her own state championship match. Cox’s news put a smile back on her face.
“I was like, ‘Man, now I’d better win then,’” she said.
Harrell followed through on that pledge and captured the 121-pound Missouri state championship Saturday, on an 11-2 major decision over Waynesville’s Justice Seely. Harrell (22-0) is a member of the first group of Missouri girls wrestling champions since the sport became MSHSAA-sanctioned this season. She is the first girl from a Columbia high school to win a title in the sport.
“It’s kind of still setting in,” Harrell said. “It just hit me today that I was in the finals. I was on my way here and I was like, ‘I’m actually going for first. I could tell people I meet later that I was the first girl to win a championship at 121.’”
To earn the right to say that, Harrell had to go head-to-head with a close friend in Seely, against whom she has competed in numerous tournaments before. Harrell said she tends to get emotional after matches against her friends, so she wanted to stay stoic this time.
After time expired, she was just that. Harrell stood triumphantly expressionless on the center mat at Mizzou Arena as her arm was lifted by the official. No traces of emotion appeared still as she walked off the court and back into the tunnels. But that didn’t mask her prevailing confidence and joy, Hickman coach Dan Pieper asserted.
“She had a lot of expectation, a lot of pressure on her to win the state title,” Pieper said. “She got back in the tunnel and she was exhausted. I think it was more of a relief that it was over. We had a nice conversation and there was more emotion (in the locker room).”
Despite the lopsided-looking score, Harrell got all she could handle from Seely. The Hickman star trailed 2-0 early after a takedown seconds in.
“That woke her up,” Pieper said.
Harrell had to scrap for points throughout the match after that. She landed a takedown to tie it 2-2 after the first period, and it stayed even deep into the second before Harrell got Seely on her back for a three-point near-fall.
It gave Harrell the lead for good.
Another near-fall for as many points early in the third period effectively put the match out of reach. Harrell outscored Seely 6-0 in the final frame.
“We had a couple times we thought we might catch her on her back there,” Pieper said. “We knew kind of where to work at that point, and Belle knew what she needed to do — ended up increasing her lead throughout the whole match. I don’t think at any point in all honestly we were nervous as coaches. It was more just, ‘We gotta pick up the pace here.’”
Harrell certainly picked up the pace, but she didn’t win on a pin like she did in the quarterfinals and the semis. If anything, the lack of a pin finally gave spectators a full match’s worth of time to see her fearlessness on display.
“She is a very confident young lady,” Pieper said, “and she should be confident.”
Harrell will invest that confidence in boasts to several people with her new title — particularly her four younger brothers, each of whom wrestles.
“I’m gonna tell them,” Harrell said as she turned to leave the arena, “that I’m better than them.”
Supervising editor is Theo DeRosa.