Maryland wrestling has involuntarily made itself a mainstay in the Big Ten’s basement throughout the past decade.
When coach Alex Clemsen took over the program in 2019, the Terps had gone six years without a ranked win and three years without a victory against a Big Ten opponent.
Now, as Clemsen enters his fifth year as the Terps’ head coach after a season full of firsts, expectations have never been higher. He hopes to see Maryland continue its growth and believes raised goals won’t phase any of his wrestlers.
“Our guys have such a high level of expectations for themselves, they don’t even worry about where other people see us and put us other than what I like to remind them, that maybe they’re not as high as they want to be or that we think they could be,” Clemsen said. “Other than that, I don’t think they buy into a lot of outside noise.”
The Terps boast a top-25 dual ranking ahead of the 2023-24 season, according to InterMat, and have multiple top-30 wrestlers in their respective weight classes.
The success Maryland wrestling found last season is the main reason for the elevated expectations. A young Terps team led by Braxton Brown, Kal Miller, Ethen Miller and Jaxon Smith, all of whom were freshmen or redshirt freshmen, put together a 10-9 record — Maryland’s most dual wins since the 2012-13 season.
The quartet made it to NCAA qualifiers last year and remained in the competition through the second day of the tournament — the most Maryland wrestlers to make it to day two since 2010.
Last season, Maryland also picked up its first win over a ranked opponent since 2013, entered the National Wrestling Coaches Association poll for the first time since 2013 and recorded its first Big Ten dual win since 2016.
Smith, a redshirt sophomore who represents the Terps at the 197 pound weight class, said it’s fulfilling to see Maryland wrestling on an upward trajectory as a program.
“This is what the plan was two years ago, we’re still making the movement and making the steps forward,” Smith said. “I think we’re doing pretty good right now and we’ll continue to do that.”
Maryland will return almost all its starters this season, apart from its biggest. Jaron Smith, the Terps’ eighth-year heavyweight closer and veteran leader who was nationally ranked by both FloWrestling and InterMat throughout last season, exhausted his eligibility.
Smith’s experience made him a mentor for the young team last season and his departure created a big hole in the Maryland lineup.
The Terps hope transfer Seth Nevills can fill the void. Nevills, who spent four years at Penn State as a wrestler and a season as a football player, holds a 22-7 career record and a 13-4 mark in dual meets. Clemsen believes that Nevills could be in line for a breakout season after getting limited opportunities over the past few years at Penn State.
“He was the number one recruit in the country his senior year [of high school], 169-1,” Clemsen said. “He’s talented, and I think he’s motivated to show that he’s pretty damn good himself.”
Nevills and the rest of the Terps will have opportunities to showcase themselves early. Maryland opens its season with a dual at American before competing in duals against Pittsburgh and Morgan State. The Terps will also take part in tournaments like the Franklin and Marshall Lehman Open, Tiger Style Invite and Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
The real test will begin with Big Ten play, which begins Jan. 12, 2024, against Michigan. Last year, the Terps showed they could compete with conference opponents near the bottom of the standings. This season, the goal is to close the gap between them and the top.