Rockville’s Maroulis eyes spot on U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling squad

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“She wrestled this guy who was the returning outstanding wrestler at the tournament,” Phelps said. “He was a senior going up against a freshman girl. There were three matches going on at the same time, but as those matches ended, her match ended up going into overtime. So everyone’s watching Helen’s match. And she beat this monster. She was this little girl going against this little man, and the stands are going crazy.”

Maroulis lost in the semifinals and had to face her adversary for third place. And the match went into overtime, again.

“She ends up taking him down and pinning him, and the place erupts,” Phelps said. “They ended up giving her the outstanding wrestler, which is pretty uncommon for a third-place finish.”

Terry Steiner, the Team USA women’s wrestling coach, said he and his colleagues started hearing about Maroulis before they saw her in person.

“From cadet nationals to junior nationals, she was one of those people who started performing,” Steiner said. “If they start performing, we start paying attention. Once they’re in the top three of our junior pool, we try to wrap our arms around them.”

While Maroulis put her stamp on the Maryland high school scene with two dramatic overtime wins as a freshman, it was a loss that catapulted her to her current level.

“I think losing last year (July 2011) in the finals of the junior world championships, a match she fully expected to win, put her in a different place in a good way,” Steiner said about a loss to Kanako Murata of Japan. “She just had a flat match in the finals, there’s no other way around it. If they wrestled 10 times, Helen would win nine. So it stung, and that’s driving her quite a bit. She came home with a real sense of urgency, and she hasn’t let up.”

Since then, Maroulis finished fifth in the senior world championship and either first or second in four other events, including a victory in the Pan American Championship on Feb. 25.

Ahead of the April trials, Maroulis will be with the national team on a training trip to China or back in Colorado Springs plugging away. Both coach and athlete say the Olympics we see on TV — with its laurel wreaths and gold medals — couldn’t be more different than the brutal path to get there. We don’t see the repetitive sessions of practice, weightllifting, cardiovascular training, visits to physical therapists and chiropractors.

“It’s pretty much eat, wrestle, sleep,” Maroulis said. “I don’t have a car, so I don’t get off campus much. But we go to yoga a lot on Sundays.”

The grind can be mentally draining, and Maroulis said she’s looking forward to some upcoming sessions with a sports psychologist.

“Since the end of 2010, the past year-and-a-half, I’ve had to commit to do all the little things that matter. Everything I could think of: changing my diet, getting more sleep,” Maroulis said, ticking off a list. “And it’s worked for me. And every sport at this level is really mental.

“I can overthink and get overwhelmed. You sacrifice everything to make this team. The closer it comes up, I’m getting excited and nervous at the same time.”

Paula usually follows the matches via webcast, but since it’s a trials event and owned by NBC, it will not be streamed live. NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) will air the finals early the following week, so mom will have to stay updated by friends at the event. Or perhaps get the results from Helen.

“You’re making me nervous just thinking about it,” she said. “But if she makes it, I will cry like a baby.”

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