The Big Ten is as tough as it gets in collegiate wrestling.
Three squads in the conference are in the country’s top five, with Penn State and Iowa coming in at No.1 and No. 2 respectively and Michigan at No. 5. Six other schools are ranked within the top 25 and three others received votes in the opening poll.
Only two Big Ten schools were left completely out of the rankings, Indiana and Maryland.
The Terps haven’t won a Big Ten dual since 2016 but have fresh faces joining returning pieces that could spark optimism ahead of Saturday’s first match.
Coach Alex Clemsen brought in the No. 8 nationally ranked recruiting class in 2021, according to InterMat.
Wrestlers from that group include Jaxon Smith, Ethen Miller and Braxton Brown, all who redshirted last year in their freshman seasons. Each are now eligible to don Maryland uniforms and secured victories last Thursday at the Terps’ annual Red vs Black Match.
Clemsen labeled his squad a “new-look team,” and is excited to watch his younger wrestlers.
“You saw some high-level guys wrestling at a high level,” Clemsen said. “The talent was on display.”
Smith comes into this season off the back of a successful summer where he became the 2022 U20 U.S. Open champion. The win earned him a spot on Team USA at the U20 World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he placed fifth.
Smith said he learned valuable lessons in Europe that could strengthen his performances heading into the new season.
“Being a little more aggressive on my feet, being a little more authentic,” Smith said. “It was a good lesson to be learned, and it’s definitely gonna translate into this year.”
John Martin Best returns for the Terps this season after suffering a torn ACL last season.
“He attacked his rehab, he stayed really positive,” Clemsen said. “He’s in a position to compete 11 months later, and he looks great.”
Best arrived at Maryland as a two-time West Virginia state champion, and was 2021 Clarion Open finalist before his injury.
Incoming freshmen Kal Miller and Joe Fisk also won duals last Thursday at the Red vs Black Match. Miller is a two-time Missouri State Champion and reunites with his brother Ethen. Fisk is a four-time Maryland high school state finalist.
With such a young team, Clemsen needed an older leader to step up. He found that with Jaron Smith, who returns for his eighth season in College Park.
“He’s already started to mentor some young kids and talk through some things,” Clemsen said. “He’s kind of organically grown into a little bit of a leadership role, and that’s awesome.”
Jaxon Smith is one that is feeding off of the elder Smith’s leadership.
“It’s really nice to have him be able to push me in the room all the time,” Jaxon Smith said. “He’s someone that we can ask anything.”
Jaron Smith faces a new challenge after competing at the NCAA Championships last season.
He used his additional year of eligibility due to COVID-19 and moved up from the 197-weight class to the heavyweight weight class, a territory he has never wrestled in before during his collegiate career.
“It was something that Clemsen brought to me first … it seemed natural,” Jaron Smith said. “I was even happier that I would get to fill a role for the team.”