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National Wrestling Hall of Fame award winner Angelo wins a mind game

May 3—Emily Angelo's toughest foe was Emily Angelo.

Then, in a departure from past wrestling seasons, the Merrimack High senior trusted herself rather than focusing on her next opponent.

"I've had countless issues with the mental side," Angelo said. "I've been in sports therapy twice. It's a constant battle with myself more than anyone else so that was what I had to overcome this year, which I actually think I did pretty well."

Angelo won her weight class, 132 pounds, for the second straight year at the second-ever NHIAA girls state championships, placed fifth at the New England championships and was recently named the New Hampshire recipient for the Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award.

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame, which presents the Tricia Saunders award, states that the honor "recognizes and celebrates the nation's most outstanding high school senior female wrestlers for their excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship and community service."

Angelo stopped being afraid to lose, she said, which led her to wrestle more relaxed and take more risks. In all but three tournaments, including the state meet, Angelo wrestled against boys — an inherent uphill battle, she said.

"I'm not really supposed to be beating boys, so I took all the pressure off of myself," Angelo said. "I stopped being afraid to lose, I stopped worrying about who I was going against and I saw pretty immediate progression in my performance."

Going into the girls state championships in February, Angelo was battling sickness, she said. Despite that, she focused on trusting herself.

Angelo, who will wrestle at Iowa Community College next year, reached the 132-pound final with a quarterfinal pin of Ellis Pietroniro of Plymouth in 3:18 and a semifinal pin of Exeter's Claire Thurlow in 1:46.

Angelo's opponent in the final was Sierra Gianini of Mascoma Valley, who, she narrowly beat with a pin — while executing an armbar — in their only previous match.

The moments before that final tested Angelo's season-long practice to not get worked up about her opponent, she said.

"I was definitely nervous going into it," Angelo said. "A lot of people were hyping her up and saying, 'She wants revenge. She wants revenge,' so I really, really had to put that away because I don't do well when people say that stuff to me, which is probably why they were saying it to me, to be honest."

Angelo employed some of her lesser-used moves, she said, and adjusted her strategy against Gianini. With the lead in the third period, Angelo closed out the 10-1 victory by playing defense, she said. It marked her second straight state crown.

At the New Englands, Angelo gained an appreciation for wrestling when healthy, she joked. Sick again and feeling much worse than she did at the state meet, Angelo placed fifth and finished the season with a 19-15 overall record.

All but two of Angelo's losses came against boys, according to her mom, Lynn. Her two losses to girls came in the New England meet.

"I definitely feel like I improved a lot mentally from where I had been the last couple years," Angelo said.

ahall@unionleader.com