When Alex Clemsen became the Maryland wrestling’s coach in April 2019, he said he believed the Terps had what it took to consistently compete on the national level.

Clemsen’s optimism seemed bold at the time. The Terps had lived at the bottom of the Big Ten since they joined in 2014, with only one win in conference play across those five years.

Five years later, Maryland finds itself in a position it hasn’t been in since joining the conference — competitive in Big Ten.

The Terps finished the 2023-24 season with a 5-7 overall record and won a program-record two of their eight conference duals while facing some of the nation’s best.

“From a dual meet perspective, I think we definitely wrestled better,” Clemsen said when comparing the Terps’ 2022-23 season to this year’s. “We never won two Big Ten dual meets in a season. So I think that’s definitely another step in the right direction.”

Both of Maryland’s Big Ten dual wins came at home in dominant fashion. The Terps beat Northwestern in January, 29-15, behind five victories by fall or technical fall. They then picked up four victories by fall or technical fall in a 28-15 victory over Michigan State in February.

[Four Maryland wrestlers win matches at NCAA championships]

During the regular season, Braxton Brown, Ethen Miller, Jaxon Smith, and newcomer Seth Nevills often led Maryland to victory. The four combined for 136 dual points while allowing opponents to score 32. Smith boasted a team-best plus-40 point differential.

That group continued this success in the postseason. All of them placed at the Big Ten championships in College Park, putting four Maryland wrestlers on the podium for the first time in program history.

Ethen Miller stood out over the weekend. Wrestling out of the No. 6 seed, he beat No. 11 Marcos Polanco, No. 3 Caleb Rathjen, and No. 5 Dylan D’Emilio. He finished fourth at 149 for the highest Big Ten placement of his career.

Ethen Miller, Smith and Brown earned automatic bids to the NCAA championships. Nevills and Kal Miller also picked up at-large bids based on their impressive regular seasons. The Terps sent five wrestlers to the NCAAs for the second straight year.

Maryland stumbled there. All five Terps lost their opening matches, quickly sending them to the consolation bracket. Brown, Ethen Miller, Smith and Nevills picked up wins, but all five eventually bowed out on the second day. None made it past the second round of their consolation bracket.

“I know our kids want to win at the highest levels,” Clemsen said. “I know that they came to Maryland and to College Park to compete for championships and be on that All-American podium, so I’m sure most of them, if not all of them, have bad tastes in their mouth and are eager to get back to work and I’m sure we’ll have fruitful offseasons because of that diligence.”

[Seth Nevills considered quitting wrestling. Maryland helped him revive his career.]

Maryland looks like it will continue its upward trajectory from the past few years. The Terps’ four Big Ten placers return along with most of the rest of the lineup.

The few holes to fill in the lineup will come at 141, 157 and 165 pounds with Michael North graduating and Kal Miller and AJ Rodrigues planning to redshirt next season, Clemsen said.

But the Terps have capable replacements on their current roster and coming to College Park next season. Their 2024 class is unranked, but Clemsen vehemently defended it and even compared the group to Maryland’s eighth-ranked 2021 class.

“It’s not as sexy as the ‘21 class,” he said. “Rankings are for beer-drinking and shit-talking. They don’t mean a whole lot.”

That class could be influential in continuing the program’s growth, with success on the mat helping to expand an already-increasing fanbase. Maryland saw more than 11,000 people in Xfinity Center for each matchup during the Big Ten wrestling championships last month.

“We saw it on Friday, it was packed. We’re consistently getting the Pav filled up,” North said after the Terps’ Northwestern win. “Coming here my freshman year, we had maybe 15 people in the stands to now, it just shows the growth.”