A rare juggling act: St. Charles' Barclay handles competing in both basketball and wrestling
St. Charles senior Noelle Barclay is a contributor for the Saints on the hardwood and the wrestling mat.
ST. CHARLES — There are times when Noelle Barclay looks across the wrestling mats and wonders how exactly she got here.
Some of Barclay’s earliest memories of the sport involved her watching her younger brother compete at tournaments. She didn’t necessarily enjoy it.
“I used to cry because I felt bad,” Barclay said with a bit of a laugh. “It was little kids and they were crying. I obviously didn’t like that.”
When it was her turn to compete she instead found herself on a different type of mat, doing gymnastics.
That sports love started at age 8 and continued even into her time in Kentucky, her family moving there in the fifth grade. Barclay was soon training 16-20 hours a week. And that continued after another move, her family returning to southeastern Minnesota in August of 2020.
But over the course of the next year, the passion she had for gymnastics was disappearing.
Her body hurt more, specifically her Achilles tendons. She could no longer land as she’d become accustomed to and soon, she realized she had had enough.
“I couldn’t really tumble on floor (exercise)… and after traveling a lot and moving, I was very much in flux,” Barclay said. “It was really hard on my mental health because it’s just really stressful. I just decided to take a step back and try other stuff.”
So as a junior she became a free agent, looking for a new activity to replace the hours gymnastics had once consumed.
Her friends convinced her to play basketball.
As she did it, wrestling coach and longtime-family friend Scott Kobs remembered the little prank Barclay and cousin Jonas Barclay — a now senior grappler — had pulled the year before. Kobs had always joked about trying to get Noelle to come out for wrestling, and this time Noelle and Jonas were able to convince him that Noelle was, in fact, joining the squad.
But to the disappointment of Kobs, it was just a joke.
Yet, Kobs persisted.
When he heard Barclay was done with gymnastics, Kobs put on his best full-court press. He began by telling her the growing movement of girls wrestling, the Minnesota State High School League sanctioning a state tournament and the opportunity she had of being a pioneer in the sport.
She was convinced.
“I thought, well, I might as well give it a try,” Barclay said.
Barclay, Kobs and then-girls basketball coach Chad Ohl hatched a plan for Barclay — as well as teammate Grace Buringa — to do both basketball and wrestling.
Basketball came first, but there would still be opportunities to train for wrestling with the team, plus the all-girls wrestling meets.
Barclay’s first set of matches came at the Pine Island all-girls tournament.
She left with more than her first win that day.
“I got a black eye; it was a good one,” Barclay said with a laugh. “I had it for like two weeks. The girl felt so bad and she was so nice. She brought me some candy. It was really sweet of her.”
Despite the shiner, Barclay was hooked.
Her gymnastics background was perfect for both the physical and mental aspects of wrestling.
It’s exactly why Kobs had always pushed for her to get in the St. Charles wrestling room.
“She is like a quiet Lion,” Kobs said. “She is polite and sweet, but as a competitor, she is fierce, courageous, strong and brave to give wrestling a shot. Now that we have girls wrestling, it fits in with her strong gymnastic background and her willingness to give anything a try. She is a great example for our students and others to get involved in school activities.”
“I am proud of her and so glad she is on the wrestling team. Like the other girls giving wrestling a try, she is paving the way for others.”
It’s that last part, though, that Barclay underestimated.
She took part in the Section 1-4 Tournament a year ago, placing second at 165 pounds to qualify for the first-ever state girls wrestling tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
St. Charles schools gave her and teammate Buringa a send-off to state. That’s when it hit her the true impact she was having.
“We went and walked through the elementary school, and the little girls were saying I want to do this because of you,” Barclay said. “That was really cool to see.”
But her No. 1 fan is at home in the form of her 8-year-old sister Carissa, who just might end up on the wrestling mat as well.
“She always wants me to teach her some new moves and wrestle around the house,” Barclay said. “Always.”
Barclay lost her first and only match at state, but the experience itself is one she will never forget and it’s one she aims to make happen again. Only this time, she’s hoping to come back with a couple of state wins.
For now, though, she is once again navigating being a contributor off the bench for the Saints basketball team as well as training for wrestling. She also works at least once a week in the morning at a childcare center, which means sometimes her day looks like the following:
Wake up at 5:30 a.m. to make it to work by 6. She gets home a little after 8 to prepare for the school day, which is followed by wrestling practice until 4:45, before heading to basketball practice from 5-7.
Tack on schoolwork and family time, and her days are overflowing. But Barclay is not one to waste a moment.
"I feel like I can usually manage my time pretty wisely," Barclay said. "I use my study hall — a lot of people don't use this, they just kind of sit on their phones. But I usually try to knock out most of my schoolwork during that. So I don't usually have too much (later), usually just some reading and stuff when I get home. I just come home and have dinner and usually spend like 30 minutes with my family. Then do it all again."
She does it because she simply enjoys doing both sports, especially wrestling — a surprise to even her.
"I didn't expect it to like it this much," Barclay said. "I didn't really know what to expect because I'd never known anything other than gymnastics."
Now, it's hard to imagine anything other than the hardwood and the wrestling mat.