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SHE’LL SETTLE FOR SIX : Injuries Kept Eileen Maul From 8 Section Titles, but She Aches for 1 More

The dethroning of Eileen Maul, Santana High School’s queen of spring, began last year.

First it was her gymnastics championship, in part because of an untimely injury. Then, last week, it was her diving title.

She won San Diego Section championships in both sports during her freshman year, and soon after she set a goal for herself: eight titles--four in each sport--in four years.

For a while, it seemed realistic. Maul, who has been involved in gymnastics since she was 9, won the section overall optional championship in 1985 and 1986. She earned section diving titles in 1985, 1986 and 1987, giving her five championships in three years. She had never participated in a varsity sport without winning the section championship.

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But Maul’s streak was snapped at the 1987 gymnastics championships. She fell to sixth in the overall optional competition when she competed with a sprained right wrist and torn ligaments in her shoulder.

“She’s one in a million as far as coachability,” said Mary Daniels, who coached gymnastics at Santana from 1968-1984 and remains close to the team. “She worries about the other kids. She’s not just out for herself. When Eileen competed for us at CIF last year, she was hurting. But she felt an obligation to her team. That sticks in my mind.”

She finished sixth, then she lost her diving title this spring because she did not compete. The interruption in her gymnastics reign, however, may be only temporary. The shoulder is still bothering her, but she will attempt to win her third gymnastics championship in four years Friday at the San Diego Section meet at San Pasqual High School.

“She’s the best I’ve ever coached at the high school level,” said Steven Butcher, Santana gymnastics coach. “She’s the best gymnast mentally. As the pressure grows, she gets stronger mentally.”

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Maul said: “I guess I’m just kind of lucky in a way. Ever since I was little, I’ve always been lucky in athletic talent.”

During her freshman year, Maul decided to dive for the Santana swim team.

“I did it for fun,” she said. “I just went in because my brother (Gary, a former Santana diver) did it. He said, ‘Why don’t you try some diving?’ So I tried some diving--all the way to the CIF.”

That athletic talent was apparent again this spring as she made a comeback in gymnastics.

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Maul still isn’t sure how she hurt the shoulder, and she isn’t sure how it will react Friday. She woke up one morning before the section gymnastics finals last spring, and her shoulder was so sore she couldn’t lift it over her head to put on her shirt. Last spring, her doctor said the rotator cuff was damaged and left her with a decision: surgery or a rehabilitation program. She chose rehabilitation.

In March, the shoulder was bad enough that she gave up all hope of competing in either gymnastics or diving this spring. For 10 months, it had hurt badly.

Until a few weeks ago.

Suddenly, in early April, the pain stopped. And, however tentatively, Maul is back on the beam. She competed in a couple of league meets and a couple of invitationals, and finished second--barely--in the overall optional of Saturday’s Grossmont League meet. El Cajon Valley’s Alicia Santana was first with a score of 37.00, and Maul finished with 36.95.

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“She has come so far since the beginning of the season,” Daniels said. “She’s really getting right on track. What surprises me is the little amount of time she’s had to get herself together, and yet she’s improved every meet, both physically and mentally.”

Said Maul, regarding her decision to compete in gymnastics again this spring: “I missed it a lot. It’s been my life. I love it so much. I got antsy when they started competing, and I started working twice as hard at strengthening my shoulder.”

She was gearing for surgery this summer, but the shoulder started getting better. Her doctor has ordered her to stop if she feels any pain.

“It’s been sore for the past two weeks, but not to where I can’t do anything,” she said. “It hurts when I move it certain ways. It’s really weird. Some days I can’t lift it over my head, but other days it’s better. I even have some pain-free days. I think about it a lot. I wake up every day praying that it feels good.”

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But there have been no return trips to the doctor lately.

“I’m afraid he’s going to say, ‘stop,’ ” Maul said.

Maul hasn’t done double duty this spring, either. Although her gymnastics career has resumed, if only in a fragile state, a job as a coach at the Gymnastics Center limits her time, and she chose not to dive.

“This is the last year I’ll ever be able to do gymnastics,” she said. “Plus, it’s easier to come back in gymnastics because I’ve been doing it most of my life. I figure I’ll do diving in college.”

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When Monte Vista’s Kristen Walls won the section diving championship Friday, Maul was there to watch, casting a shadow. Walls won with 428.40 points, the second-highest point total in section history--behind Maul’s 436.95 last year.

“I felt like I should have been there (competing), but it just wasn’t possible,” Maul said. “It’s just a big question in my mind: ‘Could I have won it?’ I’ll never know.”

Maul says the future will include Grossmont College for a year or two, and then, if her plans materialize, a diving scholarship to UC Santa Barbara.

But Friday, her mind will be on attempting to win back her gymnastics title.

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