Girls rule: Maroulis making the grade on the mat

Freshman beating the boys

Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005

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Susan Whitney-Wilkerson⁄The Gazette
Magruder freshman Helen Maroulis (top) pins Whitman’s Joe Hancher at 112 pounds during Saturday’s tri-meet at Wheaton. Maroulis also won her match against Wheaton and has only lost once this year.

It is a problem that Helen Maroulis’ foes on the mat probably don’t have to deal with. In the middle of her match against Whitman’s Joe Hancher during Saturday’s tri-meet between Magruder, Whitman and Wheaton at Wheaton, the 112-pound Magruder freshman was forced to the sideline by the referee when her hair had come loose of her ponytail, spilling out of her headgear. At first she tried to tie her hair back tighter, but when that didn’t work, her coaches were forced to take corrective action in the short time they had left. They wrapped her head in a layer of athletic tape to cover her hair and sent her back out on the mat. Even though she looked injured, Maroulis did not wrestle that way, using her speed and skill to beat Hancher by decision. Later in the day, she pinned Wheaton’s Sam Tripoulas to complete her sweep, and continue her undefeated season against Montgomery County competition. Maroulis, 14, has dropped just one match overall this season, when she lost to James River (Va.) High’s Jared Anongos in the 112-pound final of last week’s Mad Mats Tournament at Magruder.

‘‘She’s very technically sound,” Magruder assistant coach Kevin Phelps said. ‘‘We work on her footwork a lot, and she knows how to scramble well. We try to focus on getting the points early and wherever she can, because she does have some strength issues to overcome.”

In case you haven’t already gathered it, Maroulis ‘‘strength issues” derive from the fact that she is one of the few girls wrestling against boys in Montgomery County. Despite the fact that she is wrestling against opponents that, for the most part, weigh the same as her, Maroulis does not have the upper body strength that many of her male counterparts have. While that may be an insurmountable obstacle for other wrestlers, Maroulis has learned how to use her opponents preconceived notions to her advantage.

‘‘Some people just really don’t like wrestling girls,” she said. ‘‘I think some guys get psyched out, but I don’t know. I don’t really care. I like the competition.”

In fact, the competition was the reason that Maroulis gravitated to wrestling in the first place. At the age of 8, Maroulis joined her younger brother, Tony, who was already wrestling in the Gaithersburg Sports Association youth program. While her mother had reservations, it was a sport that Maroulis wanted to pursue.

‘‘A couple of years in, we told her to quit,” Paula Maroulis said. ‘‘There were no college programs for girls, and there was nothing that she could do [with the sport]. But then, that fall they made women’s wrestling an Olympic sport, so we let her continue.”

‘‘They didn’t want me to get too attached,” Maroulis explained. ‘‘I wanted to wrestle in matches because I didn’t think it was fair that I could practice but not wrestle in matches. I made a deal with my dad that if I won my first match, I could keep wrestling, and I did. But, that was the only match that I won all year, so it was perfect timing, I guess.”

By the time she was in middle school, Maroulis was wrestling in a Mt. Airy junior league program under the direction of coach Mike Desarno. She rapidly improved, and soon the family was traveling to intramural tournaments to watch her compete. While at first she was considered an oddity, as Maroulis showed off her skill, acceptance followed.

‘‘Certain people were less than kind,” Paula Maroulis said. ‘‘But I found that kids who are good wrestlers, who come out and do what they need to do, recognize each other as wrestlers. You wrestle, you win or lose, and that’s it.”

As she learned technical skill under Desarno, she not only beat the male opponents she faced on a regular basis, but Maroulis moved up the national rankings of the United States Girls Wrestling Association. Before she even entered high school, Maroulis was rated the fourth best girls wrestler in the nation in the 110-pound division by the organization.

‘‘Sometimes I feel some pressure,” Maroulis said. ‘‘At a lot of tournaments that I go to, people will watch my first few matches just to check me out and see if I’m any good, but I don’t really mind.”

However, as a freshman at Magruder, Maroulis is not the main attraction, but one of several good wrestlers on a deep team. The Colonels boast two defending state champions — Zach Tolbert and John Holloway — and return several regional qualifiers, including Thad Stevens, Alex Borzov and Alex Tolbert. The intensity and toughness of her teammates has pushed Maroulis to become a better wrestler already.

‘‘It has been fun,” she said. ‘‘The team is really supportive. Coach Phelps and [head] coach [Max] Sartoph have been really focused on helping me to get better.”

In fact, even though she does not get to hang out with the Colonels in the locker room before matches, her work ethic has quickly integrated her into the fabric of the team. While other programs would have had a prolonged period of adjustment with a female wrestler, Magruder has not.

‘‘She works very hard in the wrestling room,” Phelps said. ‘‘She’s the last one to leave. When practice is over, she comes back to work with me or to work out against Zach [Tolbert]. She works as hard, if not harder, than anyone else in that room, and because of that, they take her on as a team member.”

So, while Helen Maroulis may be on the vanguard of a new generation of girls who have entered the formerly male-dominated sport of wrestling, she does not think of herself primarily as a trailblazer. She is, in the end, a girl who likes to wrestle and is good at it. However, every now and then, she does allow herself a moment of reflection about how far girls have come in the sport.

‘‘It’s definitely changing for girls [in wrestling],” she said. ‘‘I thought I was among the first, but I talked to so many women who wrestled in high school. But, now girls aren’t just wrestling on their high-school team’s, they’re wrestling all year round and going to big competitions. It’s really growing. Now, I see 8-year-old girls and they are so good, and I’m like, ‘Wow.’ It’s pretty cool.”