BVA's Bell grappling with success
Belle Vernon Area sophomore wrestler Austin Bell is quickly making a name for himself nationally.
Barely a month after he became BVA's second WPIAL champ in school history, Bell inserted his name into the conversation for best sophomore in the country by placing second in the 160-pound bracket at the National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) Sophomore Nationals in Virginia Beach.
He followed up that performance by placing eighth at FloWrestling.org's FloNationals at Indiana University of Pennsylvania a week later, also at 160.
“At Sophomore Nationals I think I wrestled really well, until the finals,” Bell said. “It would have been nice to win, but I took two weeks off after the season and only practiced twice before the tournament, so I feel like I still did pretty well. At Flo, the competition was really tough, but I also don't think I wrestled as well. I placed higher than I was seeded, which was great, but I still think I could have done a little better. But I definitely feel like I have taken a few steps forward since the end of the year.”
At Sophomore Nationals, Bell opened his tournament with two straight 15-0 technical falls and then reached the finals with major decisions of 13-1 and 11-2. In the finals, he was pinned in the first period by Chris Weiler from Wyoming Seminary (Pa.), the No. 12-ranked 160-pounder in the country according to FloWrestling's rankings. At FloNationals, Bell was seeded tenth and opened with an 11-2 major decision, before dropping an 8-6 decision to eventual fifth-place finisher Brett Donner of New Jersey. Bell then rattled off three straight decision victories – 8-5, 5-3, and 7-2 – to guarantee himself a spot on the podium. He dropped his last two matches 9-3 to Dylan Lydy of Indiana and 7-5 to Pittsburgh Central Catholic's Travis Palumbo in the seventh place match.
“Austin is getting better every day,” BVA coach Tyler Nauman said. “He's already better than he was at WPIALs. At NHSCA he was taking guys down and dominating guys on top, which shows that he is willing to target his weakness and work on it. His mat wrestling is much better than it used to be and he is diversifying his attacks on his feet. Austin wants to get better and right now he is making himself a wrestler who dominates in all positions.”
The NHSCA puts on a series of prestigious national tournaments, ranging from a major preseason tournament to postseason tournaments based on class that have regularly attracted the top wrestlers in the country for the past 25 years. FloNationals is a relatively new event run by FloWrestling.org, one of the top amateur wrestling websites in the country. This years' event attracted three wrestlers ranked first in the country in their weight class. The field was a who's-who of nationally-ranked underclassmen.
“Going to these big tournaments is about just getting out and wrestling,” Nauman said. “At both of those events he was able to see top-quality guys; guys on the same level that he will see at the WPIAL and state tournaments. Going to these things will prepare you to wrestle on those big stages and the level of nervousness that you might experience is gone.”
Bell's offseason is far from over. He plans on wrestling in several freestyle qualifying tournaments before competing in the Freestyle Nationals later in the summer in Fargo, N.D. Freestyle, or International style, is wrestled in the Olympics and has a different set of rules than scholastic or folkstyle wrestling, which is wrestled during the school season. Bell also plans on competing for Nauman's club team, Team Griffin, in the Disney Duals, and already has his sights set on next season.
“I want to win a second WPIAL title and make it to the state finals,” Bell said. “That's why we work all off-season.”
Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer.