On a 10-match losing streak, Maryland wrestling strives to get on the same page

Maryland wrestling 157-pounder Jahi Jones sprawls on Illinois' Eric Barone. Jones lost to Barone in a 4-3 decision on Feb. 9, 2020. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

With a two-point deficit entering the second period of his 157-pound bout Sunday, Maryland wrestling’s Jahi Jones started on top of Illinois’ Eric Barone.

Several Terps sitting in the bleachers started yelling at Jones to cut and allow an escape to give him more time for a takedown. But coach Alex Clemsen overheard and dispelled that idea immediately.

“We don’t give away free points in our room,” he said.

Jones wound up losing the bout, 4-3, but the second-period moment displayed the further need for Maryland’s wrestlers and staff to get on the same page. Cutting riding time short — and giving up a point in the process — doesn’t follow Clemsen’s philosophy. He wants the Terps to avoid doing it, too.

“One of the things we really harp on in the room is being stingy on top,” Clemsen said. “If guys get away, they get away, but we really gotta work and earn it and spend their energy to do so. We don’t cut guys ever.”

[Read more: Maryland wrestling’s struggles percolate to another dual in 31-9 loss to Illinois]

It’s been a long season for Maryland, currently 2-14 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten. While the Terps have stayed competitive in some of those matches, others have gotten away from the team.

Sunday’s event was one in which Clemsen took responsibility for the situation, saying the backups and the freshmen on the squad aren’t necessarily understanding exactly what he expects from them.

However, even in a situation when there were differing call-outs, Jones had opportunities to win the bout. Against Barone, staying strong on top could’ve been the difference.

“You don’t know. You could ride the guy, break their spirit a little bit,” Clemsen said. “At all costs, we wanna stay on top.”

[Read more: Getting “exposed” in recent losses was a needed wake-up call for Maryland wrestling]

It’s become a domino effect for the Terps, a chain of unfortunate events, leading back to one simple point: fast starts.

Maryland hasn’t been able to get off on the front foot in bouts, and that’s caused situations like on Sunday, where Jones worked from behind and needed a boost of energy to get him back into the match.

The Terps are accustomed to working from behind, but that’s far from what the game plan has been this season.

“Something that we haven’t capitalized on is getting it going immediately,” 165-pounder Kyle Cochran said. “I think sometimes, we’re a little too slow when we get on the line to start wrestling, and that’s just something we have to change up. As soon as the match starts, we gotta turn it up full throttle.”

For a roster and a coach who don’t like moral victories, Maryland has struggled to find success in other facets of the sport.

After Sunday’s match, Clemsen talked to the team and noted both positives and negatives. But it’s often easier to spot the negatives, particularly in a stretch in which the Terps have lost 10 straight matches. And with about a month remaining in the regular season, now’s the time to improve.

“[Clemsen] saw some areas that need improvement,” 197-pounder Jaron Smith said. “He said it’s good that we’re seeing these now before the postseason starts. If we can iron these things out before we get to that point, it’s really gonna start showing.”

Illinois won the opening coin flip and elected to start at the 174-pound class, an unusual setup — but the kind of surprise that could help the Terps down the line.

The Fighting Illini were prepared to go from the start. And with Big Ten Championships four weeks away, there’s no telling when the Terps will get their names called onto the mat. It’s one of many things the team will continue to work on moving into March.

“At a certain point, you have to realize that you’re emulating the end of the year,” Smith said. “You go to nationals, you go to Big Tens and you start weighing in, you have no idea when you’re gonna be up. … I’m not used to going third, but it’s good to get that experience.”

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