Not one Terp made it past the second round in their respective weight class after Maryland wrestling began day one of the Big Ten championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Saturday.
However, Kal Miller, Ethen Miller and Jaxon Smith all worked their way through the wrestleback brackets, placing high enough to see each wrestler earn an automatic bid to the NCAA championships. Braxton Brown finished ninth, just missing out on an automatic bid after one was taken out of the 125-pound weight class due to another wrestler backing out.
Maryland ended Sunday with a team score of 24 and three NCAA qualifiers, finishing in 14th place.
Jaxon Smith highest Maryland placer, finishes third
Jaxon Smith entered the championships as the highest seeded Maryland wrestler after earning the No. 6 seed. Looking to make a run at the 197-pound crown, Smith was upended just two bouts into Day One.
Smith secured an opening round 8-3 decision victory over Rutgers’ No. 11 Billy Janzer, but suffered a narrow defeat in sudden victory against Illinois’ No. 3 Zac Braunagel.
He then defeated Northwestern’s No. 12 Andrew Davison by a tight 3-1 decision, which secured him at least a top-seven finish and a spot in Tulsa. Smith added another 3-1 decision win, this time over Wisconsin’s No. 8 Braxton Amos, to put himself two wins away from a third place finish in his first Big Ten championships.
“He’s special,” Clemsen said. “I’m just happy that he’s able to be healthy enough to show that.”
Picking up right where he left off on Saturday, Smith secured another 3-1 decision victory to start Sunday. Battling against No. 5 Jacob Warner of Iowa, both traded escapes to send the bout to an extra period tied at one. Then Smith took over, securing the bout-winning takedown to put him one win away from third place.
In the third place bout, Smith got his revenge against Braunagel. Smith landed an opening period takedown and led 2-1 after a Braunagel escape. After another Braunagel escape in the second, the bout was tied 2-2 with one period to go.
Still tied after the third period, Smith landed the winning takedown in sudden victory. Smith got a hold of Braunagel’s leg and completed the takedown to secure a top-3 finish at 197 pounds.
True freshman Kal Miller earns NCAA bid
Kal Miller entered the Big Ten championships this weekend as the lowest ranked seed in the 141-pound weight class. After struggling throughout the Big Ten slate, Miller needed an impressive showing over the two days of championship play to secure a spot in Tulsa this month.
Things got off to a less than ideal start for Miller in the Wolverine State. Ranked No. 14 in the weight class, Miller was pitted against No. 3 Brock Hardy of Nebraska in the opening round. Miller failed to score a single point in a 6-0 decision defeat, dropping into the wrestleback rounds.
“If you want to be successful in anything … you got to be able to take some criticism and hard truths sometimes,” coach Alex Clemsen said. “We were critical, but not in a negative sense … I felt good about Kal Miller the whole time.”
But Miller fought back. The true freshman finished Saturday with a pair of victories — a 4-1 decision of Illinois’ No. 6 Danny Pucino and 4-2 sudden victory decision over Minnesota’s No. 5 Jakob Bergland. The two wins put Miller just two more wins away from a ninth place finish, good enough for an NCAA bid.
Miller began Sunday against a familiar foe in Pucino, and garnered a similar result. Miller went on the attack early and got out to a 4-2 lead after two periods. Miller added a key reversal and takedown in the final minute to cancel a Pucino takedown, taking a 8-5 decision to advance to the ninth place final.
In his final bout of the weekend, Miller left it late to secure a victory and an NCAA spot over Rutgers’ Joe Olivieri. After tying the bout 1-1 in the third period with an escape, a swift takedown gave him a 3-1 lead with a minute left. Miller surrendered another escape, but prevented Olivieri from a late takedown to secure a 3-2 decision victory.
“I realized, I was just like, let me go out there and just wrestle and give it everything I got,” Miller said. “I got nothing to lose.”
Dominic Solis, Jaron Smith will rely on at-large bids to NCAAs
Dominic Solis and Jaron Smith were both part of Maryland’s trio to make the NCAA championships a season ago, but both will have to wait for an at-large bid after failing to earn an automatic bid this weekend.
An automatic qualifier from a season ago, Solis had a tough path back to the national championships after receiving the No. 12 seed in the Big Ten championships. Competing at 174-pounds — the only weight class in the Big Ten to receive less than eight allocated spots for the NCAA championships — Solis needed a seventh place finish or better to earn a bid.
Solis suffered a first round loss by decision to No. 5 Edmond Ruth of Illinois, falling into the wrestleback bracket right from the off. Solis picked up a 5-1 decision win in his first consolation bout, but faltered for the second time this season against Indiana’s No. 6 Donnell Washington, ending his tournament on Saturday.
“We just couldn’t seem to get [Solis] going,” Clemsen said.
Although Smith managed to advance to Sunday, the eighth-year senior will once again have to wait for an at-large bid as he did last season.
The heavyweight class’ No. 9 seed, Smith was sent quickly to the wrestleback bracket after a 4-1 decision defeat in the first round. Smith then lost to both Ohio State’s Tate Orndorff and Minnesota’s Garrett Joles by decision, ending his championships early on Sunday.
“I feel good about Jaron Smith’s chances to get a wild card,” Clemsen said.