Maryland wrestling has faced a daunting early-season schedule filled with difficult opponents.

It’s not by design.

Last season, the Terps had five dual matches and one tournament before winter break. This year, they scheduled two tournaments and three duals. One dual remains against Morgan State on Dec. 10.

The Terps have already seen an uptick in ranked opponents, especially for the wrestlers in their 2021 recruiting class.

“We had a schedule mishap with Duke. We were supposed to go to them to wrestle a tri or a quad and they didn’t deliver,” coach Alex Clemsen said. “So we kind of had to go back to the drawing board and then we also changed what we’re doing over winter break.”

The tougher opponents gave the Terps important experience against wrestlers at the level they’ll see later in the season. Maryland has five remaining regular season opponents currently ranked in the National Wrestling Coaches’ Association Poll’s top 15.

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Jaxon Smith has had one of the toughest schedules. He had only faced three ranked opponents through Dec. 7 last year, and six of Smith’s last seven opponents placed in InterMat’s top-25 rankings at 197 pounds. Smith is 4-2 in those matches, surpassing his total from last year. He’s ranked fifth by both FloWrestling and InterMat in his weight class.

In all of his ranked wins — not including one by medical forfeit — Smith has scored first with a takedown and controlled the match from there.

Ethen Miller has also seen a significant step up in his competition. Last year, Miller didn’t face a ranked opponent until his 19th match of the season. He struggled in such matchups with a 1-4 record.

This year, Miller’s seen two ranked opponents through five matches. He’s looked more comfortable in these bouts, beating No. 24 Finn Solomon in a 7-3 decision and losing a tight match in sudden victory to No. 12 Quinn Kinner.

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Last year, Braxton Brown faced his first ranked opponent in his 14th match. This season, he’s seen two ranked wrestlers through nine matches.

While Brown posted a solid 3-2 record against ranked opponents last year, those wins all came at 125 pounds.

Brown moved up to 133 pounds after his first four matches this year. He got an immediate test with the No. 13-ranked wrestler in the weight class, Vinnie Santaniello. Brown won, 6-3.

Things get easier for the Terps in the next month. After their dual against the Bears, Maryland is off until a Jan. 5 tournament at the Franklin and Marshall Lehman Open before a grueling Big Ten schedule starts on Jan. 12.

“We just decided we didn’t want to compete that close to Christmas to give the guys opportunities to spend more time with their family and reset and really get ready for a big Big Ten push [in] second semester,” Clemsen said.