Maryland wrestling changed a lot over the course of the 2,588 days between the program’s only two Big Ten dual wins.
From coach Alex Clemsen taking over the program in 2019 to countless wrestlers coming in and out, only one constant that remained in a Maryland singlet can say they experienced both Terp victories in conference play: eight-year veteran Jaron Smith.
Smith entered his eighth season in College Park on the back of arguably his best season a year ago. Competing at 197 pounds, Smith made his first NCAA Championships appearance as one of three qualifiers for Maryland, posting a 1-2 record.
Battling through three season ending injuries during his Maryland career and earning an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, Smith had the option to return for his final year of eligibility.
Now a heavyweight, Smith came back for one last go.
“I knew I had the opportunity to make a difference for this team,” Smith said. “That’s the reason I came back.”
In the Terps’ final conference dual of the season at Xfinity Center Pavilion Friday night against Purdue, Smith seized the opportunity to make an impact on his senior night.
[Maryland wrestling falls to No. 1 Penn State in final regular season Big Ten match, 44-3]
Maryland entered intermission against the Boilermakers trailing 15-4 after the opening five bouts, with Ethen Miller being the only Terp to achieve a victory after a 12-1 major decision at 149 pounds. With an uphill battle ahead, the back-end of the Maryland lineup provided Smith with the chance to go out a winner.
“I told the guys in the locker room … dual meets, have momentum and energy,” Clemsen said. “We went on runs last year, and we can do that again this year. We’ve got to win four or five, and we just need one to get a start.”
John Martin Best launched a Maryland comeback with a thrilling 6-5 decision win after two tie-breaker rounds. Dominic Solis then earned a 5-4 decision win at 174 pounds, bringing Maryland within five of Purdue at 15-10.
After Kevin Makosy was defeated by a 8-3 decision to give Purdue a 18-10 lead with two bouts remaining, Jaxon Smith made his first appearance on the mat since Jan. 14.
His return would last two minutes when Smith pinned Purdue’s Hayden Filipovich. The win by fall for Smith brought the team score to 18-16 in favor of Purdue and set up a winner-take-all heavyweight bout.
With Maryland one bout away from a first Big Ten win in 63 attempts, they turned to no other than Jaron Smith, on senior night, to close it out.
[Maryland wrestling snaps 63-match conference skid in comeback win over Purdue, 19-18]
“[Jaron Smith] loves the moment … when the match is in the balance and we have that guy, I felt pretty damn good,” Clemsen said.
Smith jumped on Purdue’s Hayden Copass early, securing an opening period takedown. He would concede an escape to Copass, but scored one of his own in the second to take a slim 3-1 lead into the final period.
“No mindset, just vibes. I saw it like I took it,” Smith said. “I saw an opportunity to score points, and that’s what we do.”
Smith surrendered an escape to Copass in the third, but it was a little too late for the Boilermaker. Smith prevented any late attacks from Copass and raised his hands toward Xfinity Center Pavilion’s ceiling as the final buzzer sounded.
Smith took his senior night bout by a 3-2 decision and secured a 19-18 win for the Terps, Maryland’s first Big Ten dual win since 2016.
“For this year I had a certain amount of goals. A lot were team oriented and getting our first Big Ten win [this season] was one of them,” Smith said. “I can say that I’ve been a part of both Maryland’s Big Ten wins … it doesn’t get any less sweet.”