With Maryland wrestling faltering in its season-opening dual meet against Penn on Sunday, having lost five matches in a row, the attention shifted to the lone ranked matchup.
149-pounder Alfred Bannister stepped onto the mat against No. 20 Anthony Artalona with a chance to turn around the Terps’ fortunes. But in a tight contest that required overtime, Artalona bested Maryland’s senior in a bout that featured questionable decisions from both Bannister and the referee.
Despite holding an advantage at points, Bannister opened his dual meet slate with a loss — and plenty to consider in future bouts — as he prepares for a third straight NCAA tournament appearance.
“I think we outwrestled him for a good six-and-a-half minutes,” coach Kerry McCoy said. “But [Artalona] did what he needed to in order to keep to the match close.”
[Read more: Maryland wrestling drops season-opener to Penn, 26-6]
Entering the season-opening dual, Bannister knew his meeting with Artalona would be a notable one, but he didn’t let on any change in mindset. He instead said he was focusing on his own technique.
It’s a mantra that’s likely helped his rise into the rankings. He finished with seven wins in his last eight bouts of the 2017-18 campaign, and he opened this season by winning the Princeton Open last month.
“Right now, this year, I’m just trying to focus on being the best I can be,” Bannister said. “And I’m just focused on being as sharp as I can be.”
Bannister faced a critical decision shortly into the match, one that seemed to play into how the remaining periods played out.
In the first, Artolona injured his ankle and Bannister decided to stay in a neutral position. Had he chosen a down position, he would’ve had an easier chance to score one point via an escape.
“He felt like he could’ve gotten a takedown,” McCoy said. “The other guy was still recovering and I think he wanted to keep him on his feet. He wanted the two points.”
That strategy didn’t pay off. Artalona fought off Bannister’s flurry of takedown attempts.
While the two were evenly matched throughout the second period, the action picked up in the third period. Bannister was finally able to score a takedown to put himself ahead, 3-2.
But as the match was winding down, the referee deemed that Bannister was intentionally stalling and awarded a point to Artalona.
In the overtime session, Artalona managed to take Bannister down to win, 5-3.
McCoy walked away from the match unhappy with the result, but optimistic that this will turn into a positive experience for Bannister.
“He knows he can’t just go out there and beat people,” McCoy said. “He’s got to go out there with a strategy and execute.”
So despite starting with a loss in the season-opening dual, McCoy takes heart that Bannister can improve from this experience. Plus, a loss in early December is much preferable to one in March.
“I told him that [Artalona] had a game plan and he executed it,” McCoy said. “Better to have it happen now than in the NCAA tournament.”