Wins normally come quick for King Sandoval. In Maryland wrestling’s season opener, his victory was an exception.

Against American’s Maximilian Leete, Sandoval fell behind 3-0 early after a takedown, but he quickly responded with an escape and takedown of his own from a throw to take a 4-3 lead. The only other points in the match came from a Sandoval escape in the second period before both wrestlers failed to score in the third.

Sandoval took a 5-3 decision win over Leete, one of American’s highest ranked wrestlers, according to WrestleStat.

Decision wins have been a rarity for Sandoval the past two years. In 2021-22, Sandoval went a perfect 13-0 in matches that ended in pins, which led Division I. But when matches went to decisions, Sandoval finished 2-13. Three of his four losses last year also came by decision, and his only win was via pin – a continuation of that trend.

In his first match of 2023, he showed this season may be different.

[Maryland wrestling wins season-opening dual against American, 30-7]

Sandoval doesn’t want to look back on his matches last year. He graduated with eligibility remaining, then returned midway through the season to take advantage of the rest of it. But he came back at the height of Big Ten play, and the lack of preparation time showed in his bouts.

“It was a really short turnaround when I came back for the spring semester, I basically had two weeks to get my weight down and I was 20 pounds over,” Sandoval said. “Only a week and a half after that, I was wrestling in my first dual after being off the mat for 10 months.”

So far this season, Sandoval has returned to what made him so successful two years ago. Facing redshirt sophomore Conner Quinn at the Terps’ annual Red vs. Black dual on Oct. 26, Sandoval worked quickly, picking up a 15-0 win by technical fall early in the match in a dominant showing. Coach Alex Clemsen said the match would have been close last year. He saw a different version of Sandoval that night.

“King Sandoval was probably the highlight of the night, to be honest,” Clemsen said. “He just looked like he was in total control. He looked crisp, he looked strong. I was really, really impressed with King Sandoval.”

[Maryland wrestling aims to shed Big Ten basement-dweller status and continue progression]

Sandoval looks to be one of the more important wrestlers in Maryland’s lineup this season. The 133 pounder is between No. 17 Braxton Brown and No. 22 Kal Miller. Paired with them, Sandoval will be key in helping the Terps build early leads and momentum in dual meets.

He’s also one of Maryland’s few veteran presences. As he nears the end of his career, Sandoval has become a leader for a young Terps team looking to establish itself in the Big Ten.

“There’s a bunch of levels to this, and I’m definitely not where I am or where I want to be at the end of my career,” Sandoval said. “I’m still building those blocks inch by inch, and I expect the younger guys to follow by example.”