Kyle Snyder and Helen Maroulis attended high schools in Montgomery County that are minutes apart, and they are separated in age by four years.
But they share an insatiable passion for wrestling, titles as world champions in that sport, and as of Sunday, honors as champions in the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials held at the University of Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“This is fantastic. I’ve been following them, and I’m just really glad for both of these two young people,” said Kelly Ward, a former two-time state champion at Kennedy and NCAA champion. “They’ve just going through their competition like a hot knife through butter. Now, they’re two of the best in the world.”
Snyder won his best-of-three series, two bouts to one at 97 kilograms (213 pounds) over 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner, earning that position for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Snyder bounced back after falling in the first match on tie-breaker criteria, controlling the next two and winning 4-0 and 6-1.
“My in-between match adjustments were a little bit technical and a little bit mental,” said Snyder, 20, of Woodbine, Maryland. “Technically, I had to keep my right hand down more before I made contact and fake more for the opening. Mentally, I had to be a little bit more stingy from certain positions on my feet and the bottom.”
Maroulis, 24, dominated her 53 kilograms (116.5 pounds) division, winning five technical falls by a combined 54-2, including scores of 10-0 and 11-0 to easily snatch her best-of-three finals over Whitney Conder.
The champion of a class in which America still must qualify for the Olympics, Maroulis will travel to Mongolia later this month in an attempt to earn the position in an international event.
“This Thursday I leave for Mongolia to go qualify the weight for the Olympics,” said Maroulis on her Facebook page. “Only one hand gets raised, and while not everyone that helps me prepare gets to be seen on that mat with me, I know none of the victories would be possible without their dedicated contributions.”
The triumph made up for a heartbreaking runner-up finish in the 2012 event, which Maroulis entered as a three-time U.S. Open champion. Maroulis had never lost to rival Kelsey Campbell before falling in their best-of-three series, two matches to none. That cost her a spot on the 2012 Olympic squad.
Last weekend, however, Maroulis was coming off an equally dominant effort at September’s world championships, where she tech-falled Irina Ologonova of Russia 11-0 to win the 55 kilograms (121 pounds) title.
This time, she would not be denied.
“It’s crazy the amount of individuals it takes to get one hand raised. I am overwhelmed with thankfulness when I reflect on everyone God has placed in my life,” said Maroulis, 24. “In the stands somewhere were my mom and dad, who have always been willing to sit in those uncomfortable seats for hours on end just to show their support for me.”
Snyder’s effort came 23 days after winning an NCAA title as an Ohio State sophomore at 285 pounds, doing so on a double-leg takedown 25 seconds into overtime for a 7-5 victory over two-time defending champ Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State.
“Consistency is a key if you want to be successful,” said Snyder, who ended an 88-match winning streak by Gwiazdowski. “I think that is what helped me to wrestle well at the NCAA and the Olympic trials. My body was ready to fight, and I was mentally prepared to compete hard.”
Snyder was an NCAA runner-up at 197 pounds last year when he was pinned in the second period by Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson after leading 1-0. Snyder had earned last year’s championship berth with a 3-2 semifinal upset of then-defending champion J’Den Cox of Missouri.
One of Maryland’s four NCAA champions, three of which are from Montgomery County, Snyder follows initial NCAA champ, Bill “Elbows” Simpson of Gaithersburg, a state championship in 1970 and a collegiate title winner at Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 1973.
Kelly Ward was a two-time state champion at Kennedy and a National Preps champ at Blair Academy before winning an NCAA title at Iowa State in his third appearance in 1979, and Mount St. Joseph of Baltimore graduate Rico Chiapparelli was an NCAA champ at the University of Iowa in 1987.
Snyder had initially decided to take a redshirt year to focus on the Olympic trials before aborting those plans to chase a national title.
“I’m in awe of watching Kyle Snyder,” said Ward. “He’s dedicated as hell, and he’s just way better than I ever was.”
As a junior at Good Counsel in 2013, Snyder won his third straight state title during his undefeated (179-0) high school career, which ended with the Falcons winning the program’s first-ever private schools state championship.
Last September, Snyder became the youngest American to win a freestyle World Championship as a 19-year-old at 213 pounds.
“They’re both students of the sport,” said Ward. “I remember Helen as a 12- or 13-year-old at a clinic I was teaching at the Naval Academy years ago. She must have been 12 or 13, but she was like a laser just studying everything I was doing. Now, look how far she’s come.”
As a freshman at Magruder High wrestling for coach Max Sartoph in March 2006, Maroulis became the first girl to place at the Maryland wrestling championships, finishing sixth at 112 pounds in the 4A/3A states.
As Magruder junior, Maroulis became the first female to reach the finals of both the Montgomery County and Class 4A-3A East Region tournaments and repeated her sixth-place finish at states.
“Helen and Kyle both got their international style starts on the Maryland National teams going to Fargo,” said Neil Adelberg, a well-known wrestling sage and former coach at Mount St. Joseph of Baltimore.
“Maryland wrestling is certainly on everyone’s radar at this point. Hopefully, we’ll see more and more national and world class wrestling accomplishments from the many Maryland, home grown stars.”