Helen Maroulis took a little break after the 2016 season.
A well-deserved break.
In Rio, Maroulis made history when she became the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling. The Rockville, Maryland, native stunned three-time gold medalist Saori Yoshida of Japan in the final.
It was a landmark win that has given a huge boost to the already strong American program.
Now Maroulis is ready to go for it again. She will be the featured attraction this week at the U.S. Senior Women’s Freestyle World Team Trials in Las Vegas. It’s the first time she’s competed on American soil since she won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials over a year ago.
The eight champions at the World Team Trials will earn a trip to Paris for August’s world championships.
Here are some of the top storylines to watch at this week’s trials:
Golden Girl Maroulis Is Back On The Mat
Maroulis returned to competition earlier this season, wrestling up at 60 kg. after competing at 53 kg. in Rio. Maroulis’ days at 53 kg. likely are done, and she is expected to compete at 58 kg. in Vegas.
With the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 still more than three years away and with United World Wrestling changing the weight classes after the 2017 worlds, Maroulis has plenty of time to figure out which weight class works best for her.
“Helen is back training now, and I think 58 is a good weight class for her,” U.S. coach Terry Steiner said. “She’s growing into the weight and getting stronger. Fifty-three was a long way down for her.”
Maroulis will be a force at no matter which class she competes in. She certainly proved that in Rio. Her Olympic triumph came a year after she won her first world title in 2015 at 55 kg.
“The Olympic gold medal, obviously it was very, very important for the U.S. to win that gold medal,” Steiner said. “It proves that we can do that here and accomplish something like that. It was huge for our program.”
Filling The Void With Adeline Gray Out
Three-time world champion Adeline Gray is sidelined for the rest of the season after shoulder surgery. The five-time world medalist was favored to win Olympic gold medal in Rio, but she suffered an upset loss and fell short of the podium. She’s expected to return next season.
With Gray out, the heavyweight division is very wide open.
Among the top contenders is Erin Clodgo, who has moved up two weight classes. Clodgo is a past world team member.
“We need other people to step up,” Steiner said. “We have some people who are capable.”
Veteran Group Looks To Provide Leadership
The Olympic Games often signify the end of careers for many veteran wrestlers. But the U.S. women’s program lost very few wrestlers after Rio. Veterans like world champion Elena Pirozhkova, world silver medalist Alli Ragan, world fifth-place finisher Victoria Anthony and Olympian Kelsey Campbell continue to compete at a high level.
Ragan broke through to win her first world medal on the senior level last year. Meanwhile, the explosive Anthony is a wrestler Steiner said could make a jump onto the world podium.
“Vicky has to get over that hurdle,” Steiner said. “She has to show she can put it all together.”
With Gray out, those veterans will play an important role as the U.S. wrestlers shoot for another trophy at worlds.
“We’re still capable of doing very well as a team,” Steiner said. “Our performers need to perform, but we will have some new faces as well.”
The Next Wave Is Ready
Young prospects such as Olympian Haley Augello, Olympic trials champion Tamyra Mensah, world team member Sarah Hildebrandt and talented Becka Leathers are among those who could be factors on the world stage.
Augello, who surprised many by winning a loaded 48 kg. weight class to make the 2016 Olympic team, is expected to move up to 53 kg. for the World Team Trials. She likely will battle past world teamer Whitney Conder for a trip to Paris.
Mensah had a strong season last year before falling just short of qualifying Rio at 69 kg. Pirozhkova has moved back up to 69 and is expected to battle Mensah for the world team spot.
Elena’s Last Stand?
Pirozhkova was expected to retire after the Rio Games, but after falling short of a medal she’s back on the mat for at least one more run. The three-time world finalist is looking to make her second world team at 69 kg. after competing in the 2015 worlds in that division. She fell short of placing that year.
“You can never count Elena out,” Steiner said. “She’s a great competitor who has won a lot of big matches in her career. It will be interesting to see what happens with her in Vegas.”