Jaxon Smith established himself as one of the nation’s top wrestlers in his weight class in 2023 during his redshirt freshman year with Maryland wrestling.

Smith posted impressive finishes in his first full season with the Terps. He finished with an overall record of 23-8, a team-high seven pins, a third-place finish at the 2023 Big Ten championships and a quarterfinal finish at the 2023 NCAA championships.

Smith now enters his redshirt sophomore campaign hoping to improve on his breakout freshman season. He hopes to do so by leaning on the same mentality he did last season but with a new goal in mind.

“My mentality going into last year — we have it written on our wall — expect to win,” Smith said. “Going into last year, my goal was to be an All-American … My mindset going into this year is to win. I want to be an NCAA champion.”

Smith’s training this offseason fit his mentality. He prioritized his offense in an effort to score more points in dual matches for the Terps.

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“I focused a lot on getting better on top, riding guys and scoring some points from top, as well as getting to being a little more offensive with leg attacks,” Smith said.

Ethan Laird, a former All-American wrestler, joined Maryland as an assistant coach this offseason. Laird, who wrestled at 197 pounds in college, said he has been competing against Smith in practice to simulate the level of competition he’d face in national tournaments.

“He’s more than ready to be there. He’s more than ready to be a national champ, and I just can’t wait to watch him wrestle this year,” Laird said.

Smith has also seen success outside of the college wrestling sphere. He competed in a bronze medal match at the U20 freestyle world championships in 2022.

Coach Alex Clemsen said he saw Smith as one of the most exciting freshmen in the country across all weight classes. To the coach, Smith’s work this offseason has put him in position to take an even further step.

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Clemsen praised the character Smith displayed pushing through an ankle injury that kept him out of five-straight matches near the end of last season. Smith returned just in time to help the Terps beat Purdue for their first conference victory since 2016.

“It’s not something we talked about with the media. It’s not something Jaxon would ever use as a crutch or even think about as a crutch,” Clemsen said. “I’m excited to see him with two good ankles.”

Last season, Smith competed in just two Big Ten dual meets because of the injury. This year, he aims to make a larger impact in Maryland’s conference slate as the Terps look to make noise in college wrestling’s toughest conference.

“I’m excited to see what our team can do this year and how much better we’re gonna be this year than we were last year,” Smith said. “I think we’re gonna see a huge improvement.”