ROCKPORT, Maine — Hilary Merrifield takes a cerebral approach to her work in the classroom and on the wrestling mat.
That approach has landed the Camden Hills sophomore on the school’s academic honor roll and put her within striking distance of athletic history.
Merrifield won the Eastern Maine Class B wrestling championship at 106 pounds last weekend and will be one of eight competitors battling for the state crown in that weight class Saturday at Morse High School in Bath.
No Maine girl has won an individual state title in high school wrestling.
“She’s going to have to have a heck of a day,” said Camden Hills head coach Patrick Kelly, “but it would really be something for her to win that first state championship.”
The Class B event is one of three state wrestling meets slated for Saturday, with Class A at Noble High School in North Berwick and Class C at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford.
Merrifield, whose father, Mark, is a former Camden-Rockport wrestler, took up the sport three years ago.
“My brother (Eben) is two years younger than me, and he was in fifth grade and he was going to try it so I decided to try it out, too,” she said.
Merrifield wrestled in middle school, then joined the high school team last winter and was a backup to teammate Zac Annis at 106 pounds.
When Annis moved up to 113 pounds this winter, Merrifield stepped into the starting lineup at 106 and has compiled a 33-6 record.
“Hilary knows her strengths when she’s on top or standing and knows her weaknesses when she’s on bottom or maybe not as strong as someone she’s wrestling,” said Kelly, “but she knows how to offset any weaknesses to capitalize on her strengths.”
The 5-foot-5-inch Merrifield placed third at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships behind two Class A wrestlers two weeks ago before winning her regional title last weekend with two victories by pin before a 10-1 major decision over Belfast’s Austin Merando in the championship match.
“She came out this year ready to wrestle and she’s showing everybody what she’s got,” said Brian Jones, a senior captain for the Windjammers. “Being first at regionals is a big thing for her.”
Merando had defeated Merrifield 8-5 in their first meeting of the season, then Merrifield topped Merando in the KVAC consolation finals.
“A lot of it has to has to do with your mindset going into the match,” said Merrifield, “and just knowing that you train hard and that this is what you work for the whole season.”
Merrifield is the latest of several schoolgirl wrestlers who have contended for individual state championships during the last decade, a list that includes two former standouts from the tradition-laden Camden Hills program.
The Windjammers’ Kristi Pearse reached the 103-pound Class B final in both 2006 and 2007, extending the 2006 title match to overtime before falling to Caribou’s Carlin Dubay 6-0. The two met again a year later, with Dubay winning by pin late in the second round.
Logan Rich placed third in the state meet at 103 pounds for Camden Hills in 2009.
The 2006 Dubay-Pearse match was one of two state finals in which a schoolgirl competitor extended the championship match beyond regulation time. Deanna Rix of Marshwood of South Berwick reached the 130-pound Class A final in 2005 before losing a 2-1 double-overtime decision to Sanford’s Shane Leadbetter.
More recently, Kayleigh Longley of Noble High School in North Berwick placed second in the 103-pound weight class at the 2009 and 2011 Class A state meets, but both matches ended in regulation time.
“Hilary’s literally competing in a guys’ world where they have a physical advantage, but she’s bright enough to be able to offset that,” said Kelly. “She looks at it as being a wrestler and beyond being a female wrestler. She just looks for a way to win tough matches.”
Merrifield and her Camden Hills teammates, who just won the program’s fifth straight Eastern Maine title, will seek to win their third consecutive Class B state championship and fourth in five years.
The team competition figures to be close, with Eastern Maine rivals Ellsworth and Foxcroft Academy and Western B champion Mountain Valley and runner-up Wells among the Windjammers’ primary challengers.
“It’s definitely going to be tough, but I think we can pull it off,” said Merrifield.