BELMAR, NJ — It’s been two decades since a wrestler from a Monmouth County high school won a state championship. But all that changed last weekend when Bella Serrano of Belmar took the mat in the NJSIAA Wrestling State Tournament in Atlantic City.

Not only did the Manasquan High School senior capture the 111-pound title in the first-ever girls tournament, she became Manasquan’s first wresting champion in the school’s 88-year history.

As she told the media after her milestone victory, “I was born to do this” — a belief she has held since she began wrestling in fifth grade, as a member of the Belmar Elementary School wrestling team.

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Competing mostly against boys during her eight years of wrestling, Serrano has been a starter on the Warriors’ varsity squad since she was a freshman. But it was during her four-year stint on the BES wrestling team that she discovered her passion.

As timing would have it, Serrano was among a handful of former BES wrestling team members, parents and current coaches who attended the Belmar Board of Education meeting on February 28 — one day before the start of the state tournament — to voice their support of the team’s current membership requirements.

In order to fill all 20 weight categories during match play, the team accepts fifth- through eighth-graders from Belmar, as well as from “Avon-by-the-Sea to Brielle,” regardless of whether they attend a public or private school or are home-schooled — a practice they said should be continued as it contributes to the team’s ability to compete.

In her remarks, Serrano told the board that even as the only girl on the BES team, she quickly discovered that “with wrestling, I fit in.” And it made the transition to high school easier since she already knew a good number of students through the “hybrid” BES wrestling team.

After about a half-hour of heartfelt remarks on behalf of the team, everyone also wished Serrano good luck in the state championships — and the rest is history.

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