EAST MACHIAS, Maine — When Aaron James initially was tasked with starting a wrestling program at Washington Academy, he noticed sophomore Chianti Mrazik in physical education class and figured he had found a building block.
“I used to be a cheerleader,” said Mrazik, “but my coach came up to me the first year they had a wrestling program here and said, ‘No, you’re not going to be a cheerleader anymore.’”
Three years later, the rest of the student body at the East Machias school are now cheering for Mrazik, who recently became the New England girls’ wrestling champion at 115 pounds and will compete this weekend at the U.S. Girls Wrestling Association national championships at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich.
“It’s going to be a great experience for her,” said James. “She’s going out there thinking that she’s going to come back with a medal, that she just wants to win the title. I think she’ll do well.”
At barely 5 feet tall, Mrazik may not strike an imposing presence in the hallways of Washington Academy, but in a sport that features 14 weight classes at the interscholastic level, she’s become a competitive force in the gradually growing world of schoolgirl wrestling.
“She’s physically tough, and she’s mentally tough,” said James. “We’ve had wrestling at Washington Academy for three years, and when I first saw her in phys ed class, she was just a natural for this. She’s very athletic, very strong, and she doesn’t look like a 112-pound girl.”
James also attributes Mrazik’s wrestling development to her personal work ethic. In addition to focusing on her wrestling techniques, she runs regularly as well as lifts weights and does odd jobs such as cutting and splitting wood.
“It’s just so hard to express in words how much work goes into what she’s accomplished,” James said.
Mrazik believes her work on the mat is aided by an intangible quality.
“I would say definitely one of my strengths is that I don’t give up,” Mrazik said. “I’ll drive and drive until I’ve won or I can’t do anything else.”
Mrazik qualified for the Class C state meet as an alternate during her first year of high school wrestling in 2008, then admittedly had an up-and-down junior season before rising to top form this winter.
She went 19-6 wrestling against boys in the 112-pound weight class during the regular season, her third straight year with a winning record.
“Guys hate to lose to girls,” Mrazik said, “so they just put in more effort when you’re trying to beat them. You just have to work harder.”
Mrazik then finished fourth at both the Class C qualifying meet and at the Class C state meet while competing at 103 pounds.
She lost to Dexter freshman Tyler Salsbury in the consolation finals of both meets, getting pinned in 56 seconds of the qualifier before dropping a much more competitive 16-14 decision at the states just one week later.
“It’s my last year in high school, so I wanted to go out with a bang,” said Mrazik, who also credited working out with Calais High School standouts Scott Carpenter and Spencer McCormick for her improvement.
Mrazik went on to win her weight class at the third annual Maine High School Girls Wrestling Invitational, with each victory coming by pin.
Then came a trip to the New England championships at Nashua, N.H., in mid-March, when she won the 115-pound crown by going undefeated in four matches — all first-round pins.
“I didn’t want to leave any doubts in my mind about it, so I went there with the idea of coming home No. 1,” said Mrazik. “It turned out to be a little easier than I thought.”
Mrazik, who leaves for the nationals Friday, will compete at 112 pounds during this weekend’s double- elimination event. She plans to take the same approach in Michigan that worked for her at the New Englands.
“I’m just going out there to win,” she said.