The path through the Big Ten is tough for any wrestling program. No team knows that better than Maryland.
The Terps were swept by the pair of Michigan schools last week, dropping their matches against Michigan State and Michigan by scores of 37-9 and 44-5, respectively. The sweep marked the Terps’ 61st and 62nd consecutive conference losses, a streak that began in 2016.
With No. 15 Jaxon Smith and No. 32 Michael North out of the lineup for last week’s matches with injuries, and No. 18 Ethen Miller also missing with an illness, coach Alex Clemsen isn’t caught up with the Terps’ 0-5 conference record.
Instead, Clemsen likes the challenge of competing in the country’s premier wrestling conference.
“I’m just not going to let the desire to get a certain conference victory dictate … what we do for our guys in terms of what’s best for them to be able to be Big Ten champs and NCAA champs,” Clemsen said after the Michigan State dual. “That’s the ultimate goal in our sport.”
Wrestling top teams in the Big Ten each week has been a great way to prepare for the championship season, Clemson said, and Maryland’s opponents this weekend proved that.
Maryland wrestlers faced five opponents ranked by InterMat in each dual. Medical forfeits for Smith against Michigan State and No. 18 Braxton Brown against Michigan prevented the Terps from facing even more high quality opponents.
“That just says a lot about our conference and the amount of resources that are poured into our programs, and how hard the staffs work and how competitive the kids are,” Clemsen said after Maryland’s dual with Illinois on Jan. 22. “It’s a good time for us, but it’s also a tough time.”
With all the opportunities throughout Big Ten play, John Martin Best took advantage of his.
After an ACL tear that kept him out of the lineup for most of last season, Best has emerged as a key component for the Terps at 165 pounds this season. He secured his first Big Ten victory earlier this season against Indiana, and also capitalized on his chances last week.
Coming off of a slim 3-1 decision loss to Michigan State’s No. 27 Caleb Fish Friday, Best rebounded Sunday. Up against Michigan’s Alex Wesselman, Best dominated from the start, securing the first pin of his collegiate career and clinching Maryland’s only individual win of the dual.
The redshirt freshman’s win could signify that momentum from his Michigan triumph will continue for him and his teammates.
“Hopefully he can kind of take some confidence from that moving forward, and continue to kind of build towards March,” Clemsen said. “We’re just banged up, and it’s a bad time to be banged up … the focus is on March.”