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Photo: Victoria Anthony spent only 1:35 on the mat in two championship matches at 48 kilos during the World Team Trials in Las Vegas, where she pinned and scored a technical fall over Cody Pfau last weekend. (John Sachs photo)
By Mike Finn
No American women’s wrestler enjoyed as much success as Helen Maroulis, who became the first U.S. female wrestler to claim an Olympic gold medal in Rio last summer and received so much attention that she wasn’t sure if she would be ready to come back and contend for a World championship this summer in Paris.
The native of Maryland and current resident of Huntington Beach, Calif., made the first step towards answering that question last weekend in Las Vegas, where Maroulis qualified for her sixth World Championships with two dominating victories over Kayla Miracle at 58 kilos — 12 pounds heavier than when she won the 53-kilo Olympic gold medal over Japan’s Saori Yoshida last summer.
Maroulis is among four American women, who have past World experience and who won in the South Point Arena, April 29-30, joining Victoria Anthony (48k, above), Haley Augello (53) and Alli Ragan (60k) and four newcomers — Becka Leathers (55k), Mallory Velte (63k), Tamyra Mensah (69k) and Victoria Francis (75k) — at this year’s UWW World Championships, which will be held Aug. 21-26 in Paris, France.
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The following are comments from all ten winners, who won the best 2-of-3 Championship Finals:
48 kg/105.5 lbs. Victoria Anthony, Tempe, Ariz. (Sunkist Kids) dec. Cody Pfau, Brush, Colo. (Titan Mercury WC), two matches to none
Bout One – Anthony pin Pfau, 0:38
Bout Two – Anthony tech. fall Pfau, 10-0, 0:57
Anthony, who finished second to Haley Augello in last summer’s Olympic Trials, makes her second trip to the Worlds. In 2013, the native of Huntington Beach, Calif., finished fifth at 51 kilos at the Worlds, held in Budapest, Hungary.
“I came so close to being in the finals,” recalled Anthony. “I was one point away from teching (Roksana Zasina of Poland in the semifinals) and then got thrown on my back. That was a tough way to go through that World Championship. But it also showed me I was in there.”
53 kg/116.5 lbs. – Haley Augello, Lockport, Ill. (New York AC) dec. Whitney Conder, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army WCAP), two matches to none
Bout One – Augello dec. Conder, 8-7
Bout Two – Augello dec. Conder, 5-4
This will be the first Senior World Championship for the 22-year-old Augello, who finished ninth at 48 kilos in Rio. A 2011 Cadet World champion, Augello, who edged 2015 World Team member Whitney Conder, also competed in two Junior Worlds (2012 and ’13) and finished third in the 2015 Senior World Team Trials.
“I felt like I went into Rio as a girl and came out a woman and I believe that showed on the mat,” said Augello, who won her first match in Brazil but then lost twice. “It humbled me a lot. It was a great blessing, a great opportunity.”
But that was not enough for Augello, who is a three-time college champion for King University.
“Almost (medaling) is almost,” she said. “Everyone can say they almost did something. I failed to medal and that’s how I took it. That was heartbreaking. Almost was not good enough.”
55 kg/121 lbs. -. Becka Leathers, Choctaw, Okla. (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Sarah Hildebrandt, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC), two matches to none
Bout One – Leathers won by inj. dft. over Hildebrandt, 3:50
Bout Two –Leathers wins by inj. dft. over Hildebrandt, 0:00
Leathers only had to wrestle one match — and was trailing — before her opponent Hildebrandt severely injured her elbow in the first bout and could not continue.
“We were out there battling and (Hildebrandt) fell and hurt her elbow,” the 20-year-old Leathers said. “It was kind of a blur. I was behind her and getting ready to throw her. When we landed, she discontinued wrestling.
“I had not been close to this level. It was more of what happened after the U.S. Open, where I got second. After that, I decided I was ready to make the team and win a World medal.”
58 kg/127.5 lbs. – Helen Maroulis, New York, N.Y. (Sunkist Kids) dec. Kayla Miracle, Campbellsville, Ky. (Sunkist Kids) two matches to none
Bout One – Maroulis tech. fall Miracle, 15-2, 5:45
Bout Two – Maroulis tech. fall Miracle, 10-0, 2:42
Maroulis, who has also won three World medals (including a championship in 2015 at 55 kilos) in addition to her gold, said not even a seven-month vacation in Norway was not enough to assure her this was the right time to return to the sport.
“I struggled with that a lot,” said Maroulis. “I’m hoping I did the right thing for the right reasons. It’s different this time around. At least this time it’s working on my character development and myself as a person and I’m using wrestling to shape that. It’s not as much about the wrestling now. It’s not that I train any different.
“The thing is that this is my profession. I give everything I have in doing it. But off the mat, I have to give everything I have as a person, a daughter, a friend. There are a lot of things that are important to me right now. Before I needed tunnel vision. If I’d do that now, I’d burn out.
60 kg/132 lbs. –Alli Ragan (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) dec. Francesca Giorgio, West Lawn, Pa. (Simon Fraser), two matches to none
Bout One – Ragan tech. fall Giorgio, 11-0
Bout Two – Ragan tech fall Giorgio, 11-0
Ragan earned a spot in the Championship Finals when she claimed a silver medal in the Non-Olympic Weight World Championships, which were held in December. But she still remembered when she failed to place in one of three World Championships (2013-15) at 58 kilos, including two years ago when she placed fourth.
“This is just a stepping stone to becoming a World champ,” said the 25-year-old native of Carbondale, Ill. “I’m just out there proving this is my new weight class. I’m excited. I’m happy. I’m getting into more of my offense and finishing from there. I’m also looking for turns, too. That is huge.
63 kg/138.75 lbs. — Mallory Velte, Sacramento, Calif. (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Jennifer Page, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Titan Mercury WC), two matches to none
Bout One – Velte dec. Page, 10-8
Bout Two – Velte dec. Page, 2-2
Velte, a two-time college national champion from Simon Fraser, had finished third at the U.S. Open in December, when she lost to Page.
“I wasn’t on my ‘A’ game at the U.S. Open,” said the 21-year-old Velte. “I just knew I had to get some confidence. But there was a lot more stress here than in the Open. I’m not really that good wrestling in close matches.”
69 kg/152 lbs. – Tamyra Mensah, Katy, Texas (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Elena Pirozhkova, New York, N.Y. (Titan Mercury WC), two matches to none
Bout One – Mensah dec. Pirozhkova, 4-2
Bout Two – Mensah dec. Pirozhkova, 6-2
This will be the first Worlds for Mensah, who prevented Pirozhkova from qualifying for a tenth-straight World/Olympic tournament, and actually won last year’s Olympic Trials at this weight. Unfortunately, she was unable to qualify the weight class for the United States. (Pirozhkova finished fifth at 63 kilos in Rio.)
“I was really disappointed (about not qualifying the weight),” said the 24-year-old Mensah, who finished second in the U.S. Open in December. “But coaches told me I had the potential to be great, but that I had a lot of work to do. I had to get back to the drawing board.”
75 kg/165 lbs. Victoria Francis, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Erin Clodgo, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids), two matches to none
Bout One – Francis dec. Clodgo, 6-5
Bout Two – Francis dec. Clodgo, 6-3
With 2016 Olympian and three-time World champ Adeline Gray taking the year off to mend from an injury, Francis — who lost to Gray in last year’s Trials — was thrilled to qualify for her first Worlds. And that may not have happened had she not scored a four-point move in the closing seconds of her first match with Erin Clodgo, the 2015 World Team member.
“I had her in a front headlock and I knew my arms were growing tired,” said the 23-year-old native of Litchfield, Ill. “I knew she was ready to pop up so I knew the double was coming so I was able to throw her. (That victory) helped me a lot going into the second match. I knew that I could out-work her. But she has a lot of years of experience under her belt.”