Throughout his Maryland career, Jaxon Smith has searched for the signature win to make him one of the nation’s best 197-pound wrestlers.
He’s beaten plenty of top 25 opponents. Perhaps his most impressive win came in last year’s NCAA tournament when he took down No. 6 seed Isaac Trumble. But outside that, Smith has come up short against All-Americans Bernie Traux, Rocky Elam, and Max Dean.
He had a chance at another indelible moment at the Cliff Keen Invitational and made his way to the final before losing. He had four wins — more than all other Terps combined.
“We had a couple opportunities,” coach Alex Clemsen said. “We just kind of ran out of real estate.”
Smith’s Friday action started with a match against Purdue’s Ben Vanadia. It took just seconds for the Terp to establish his presence with an overpowering early takedown that set the tone for a 7-1 victory.
The redshirt sophomore then faced Northern Iowa’s Wyatt Voelker.
Voelker was the first on the board with an escape to start the second. But Smith captured the lead with a takedown immediately after. He started the third in the bottom position and escaped to earn a two-point lead. Smith held Voelker off for the rest of the match to finish off a 4-3 win.
Smith’s matchup in the quarterfinals, Oklahoma State’s Luke Surber, medically forfeited to send Smith to the semifinals. There, he faced the weight class’ top seed: South Dakota State’s Tanner Sloan.
Smith stuffed Sloan’s early takedown attempts and with thirty seconds left in the first period, turned a shot from Sloan into a takedown of his own with a lightning-quick slip.
Smith started on the top in the second and used a powerful mat return to put Sloan on his back. The Jackrabbit escaped but not before Smith picked up four nearfall points for a 7-2 lead. The Terps’ 197-pounder would hold on in the third for an 8-2 victory.
In the final, Smith faced the No. 2 seed: Trent Hidlay. The defensive battle saw the two deadlocked at zero after the first period. In the second, Hidlay pulled ahead with an escape. A stalling call on Smith put the Terp in a 2-0 hole heading into the final period.
Smith got an escape to make it 2-1, but Hidlay used an ill-fated takedown attempt into three points of his own for a four-point lead and beat Smith, 5-2.
Seth Nevills’ rebounds in consolation bracket
Graduate student Seth Nevills came into the Cliff Keen Invitational as the No. 9 seed in the heavyweight division, one of the highest-ranked Terps.
His seed gave him a first round matchup with Columbia’s Nolan Neves on Friday, who had to win a match before just to compete against Nevills.
Despite that, Nevills struggled.
He shot for a takedown near the end of the first, but Neves defended well. The latter turned it into his own single leg attempt and finished it off for a 3-0 lead. In the second frame, Nevills dove down for a leg, but Neves stuffed it and took Nevills’s back, pulling him down for a second takedown.
That created a five-point hole for Nevills he didn’t recover from in a 6-3 decision that sent him to the consolation bracket.
He found more success there. Facing Wyoming’s Kevin Zimmer, Nevills again struggled offensively. A quick escape in the third along with the riding time advantage gave him a 2-0 win. In his next match, against Air Force’s Antonio Ramos, Nevills finally found his offense. He picked up nearfall points in the second period and pinned Ramos in the third.
In the consolation round of eight, Nevills faced the No. 11 seed, Oregon State’s Boone McDermott.
Neither wrestler could get anything going until the last thirty seconds of the first period. McDermott locked his hands around Nevills’s back and threw him to the ground. Nevills tried to keep his shoulders off the mat, but McDermott’s pressure overwhelmed him for a pin that ended Nevill’s tournament.
Ethen Miller exits early
Ethen Miller hasn’t been tested much so far this season. He’d only wrestled twice before Friday, two relatively comfortable wins. That was bound to change on Friday for Miller.
Seeded No. 8, Miller had an easy 5-1 victory in his first round matchup against Binghamton’s Michael Zarif.
The win sent him to the round of 16, where he faced the No. 9 seed, Rider’s Quinn Kinner.
Kinner and Miller were evenly matched through three periods. The former shot for a single leg and got deep, bringing Miller to the ground and pinning his shoulders on the mat for a sudden victory.
The Terps’ redshirt sophomore had little chance in the consolation bracket as Ohio’s Derek Raike blitzed him for 15 points in the first period. A Raike escape in the second period gave him 16 points and the technical fall victory — the second such defeat of Miller’s career.
“Just more consistency,” said Clemsen when asked what he wants to see from Miller in future matches. “And that’s gotta start in the Xfinity Center every day. He’s just gotta be a little more consistent with his preparation.”