I had the chance to sit down with Maryland's wrestling coach Kerry McCoy to chat a bit about last season, the upcoming season, and the move to the B1G. Before I go any further, let me offer my thanks to ‘duck" for his help in preparing me for this interview.
TC: Let's talk a little bit about last season. You had a preseason rank around sixteen and stayed in that general area but faded a bit at the end. Is that attributable to some of the injuries you had?
KM: We had a couple of different things last year. First, we redshirted two of our previous year's starters. One was for an injury. Spencer Myers had surgery in May and he was a two time conference champion and All-American. The other was Ben Dorsey who was a two year starter and placed in the conference tournament in prior years. He redshirted because he wanted to move up a weight class. Then we had two weight class changes - our senior Josh Asper was a two time All-American at the time. He had cut weight his whole career so he wanted to move up. So his senior year he moved up a weight class That pushed our next guy Jimmy Sheptock to 184 and he had been a [NCAA] round of twelve guy the year before at 174. That shifted a lot so we didn't have as strong a lineup as we had anticipated. We had some third and fourth year guys who had been backups for most of their career and didn't have a lot of experience. Still we put together a pretty good year. We had a one point loss to Virginia Tech and a two point loss to Virginia and those are both top twenty teams but we also beat a couple of top twenty five teams in dual meets. Based off the lineup we had, I think we did well but our expectations are always to be the best that we can be and we took our lumps for some of those decisions and now we are ready to move forward.
TC: So going forward this season do you expect to have a bit more stability especially given that you still have a couple guys moving up in weight class?
KM: If we can stay healthy, it's definitely going to be more stable. Of course yesterday, we lost one of our guys, Ty Snook who came down to 174, to a high ankle sprain and he's going to be out four to six weeks. We have Tyler Goodwin, a freshman, who was originally slated at 125 who's moved up to 133. But I think as long as we can stay healthy we're in a better place. We have a number of guys from last year back - a year older and a year better.
TC: You mentioned Spencer Myers. What impact do you think his return will have in both the dual meets and in tournaments?
KM: It's going to be huge. You've got a two time ACC champion and an All-American and he's top ten ranked in the country right now so that's a huge plus for the program. We're just trying to get him to wrestle like he's the underdog even though he's ranked high. He's just got to go out and win matches. And if he does that, it puts us in a great position. In the close matches, if we're down by a couple of points or ahead by a couple of points, going into his match we feel confident that we're going to win.
TC: Let's talk about Jimmy Sheptock. He was 40-6 in dual meets last year and an All-American He's opening the season in the All-Star Classic. He was going to face Ed Ruth, the current NCAA Champion but Ruth pulled out so he's going to wrestle Jake Swartz from Boise State who he beat by one point in the NCAA's last year. How does having a wrestler in this event impact the program's exposure? how does it prep him for the season?
KM: The All-Star match is a great event and we've been very fortunate that every year since we've been here - and this is our sixth consecutive year - we've had a guy wrestle in this event. Before I got here, the last Maryland wrestler in the Classic was in 1968 so with six straight it shows that it's becoming a pillar of our program to have elite level guys competing in this event. As far as exposure is concerned, it becoming a bit of an expectation that we have guys in the event but it's always great to be in the competition with some of the best guys in the country.
TC: How does it prep him for the season?
KM: Jimmy's had a great spring and summer. Most people don't know that Jimmy tore his ACL his redshirt freshman year. And then he came back after the injury and made it to the round of twelve in the NCAA Tournament. So he missed six or seven months of preparation going into that redshirt sophomore year and he was still only one match from being an All-American. Then last year, going into his fourth year, he had a good year of training, worked hard, and became an All-American (a top 8 finish in the NCAAT). This year he just built off of that. He went out to the Olympic Training Center and trained out there. It's been really good for him to have that exposure. So we expect big things from Jimmy.
TC: How about the freshman class? Do you see anyone coming in and being an impact freshman? Ryan Diehl was the highest rated of the kids coming in.
KM: Ryan is going to be coming in next year. He had to get some stuff straight academically but we've got him on track to get in here. We've got a pretty good class. Right now there's a possibility that Geoff Alexander will redshirt. If he does Tyler Goodwin (freshman) and Josh Polacek (sophomore) are the next two guys and Tyler has established himself as the number two guy at that weight class so he would be the potential starter at 133 which is a pretty good place for him. Robert Janis is another pretty good freshman. Daniel Sanchez also has the opportunity to turn some heads. So I think we've got a good core of quality guys who are ready to step in and we'll see in the next few weeks how far they're going to ascend.
TC: Based on Sunday's wrestle-offs, it looks like you'll be fielding a fairly experienced team this year. Can we talk a little about that?
KM: Frank Goodwin and Ben Dorsey are fourth year guys. Jimmy (Sheptock) and Christian (Boley) are fifth year guys. Spencer Myers and Tony Gardner are fourth year guys. We've lost one starter each year for the last four years so this is the year where all of our fruit comes to bear and we have potentially five starters from this year's lineup that'll be graduating. Down the road we'll have to replenish those spots but at the same time we've got a lot of people that have been waiting three or four years for this class to get to where they are so we can challenge for a title.
TC: Does having such a senior laden class add to the stability of the team?
KM: It's great where we are right now. Four years ago we started building together with the anticipation that this year they'd be ready to go and do some big things. So the best thing is that even though we lose a couple of guys, guys like Spencer Myers and Ben Dorsey will be back next year so it's not like we are completely bare after this year.
TC: The results of the wrestle-offs seemed to go pretty much as expected. Did you see anyone over the weekend who surprised you in terms of how they wrestled?
KM: I thought Robert Janis, being a freshman, getting that win in a close match that could have gone either way (an exhibition at 157 lbs.) over Brady Massaro was a surprise. I think Daniel Sanchez went out there and he had a great performance. He's a kid we really expect to do well but he went out there and dominated a kid who's a sophomore (also in an exhibition) so that was good. Frank Goodwin moving up in weight class really opened up and showed well. It wasn't really surprising but it was good to see. Danny Orem actually beat Ben (Dorsey) in the challenge match so for Ben to come back and get the win having to ride him to get the win was something I didn't expect.
TC: Let's talk a little bit about the 400 pound gorilla in the room and that's next year and the move to the Big Ten. Start with recruiting. Is the move changing your approach in terms of where and how you're recruiting?
KM: It's kind of funny because I've said this before. I get frustrated when people ask how is the move to the Big Ten going to change what I do. When I got here my goal was to win a national championship and it didn't matter what conference I was in. So to somehow think that now that we're going to be in the Big Ten I'd have to change what I was doing, if I want to win a national championship it really shouldn't change what we're doing. The biggest change in the move to the Big Ten for us is the exposure of our program. We still recruit the same kids we would have recruited. It's nicer now, going into the Big Ten, the kids will have that higher level so now we can talk about the Big Ten Network. We can talk about going to wrestle Iowa and Penn State and Minnesota and Michigan every year. If I had to make other kinds of changes to go into the Big Ten then the last five years would have been a little bit of a sham, I guess.
TC: Do you think that some doors are opening that might not opened to you before as a result of the move?
KM: From our perspective, we still recruit the same kids. So the flip side is that now some of the kids that we're recruiting we'll see a change that where we might have been fifth on their list now we move up to third. Or we might have been third and now we've moved up to second. It elevates their perspective of us but our perspective of them doesn't change. When a kid comes down to a choice between us and Ohio State or us and Penn State, well, we were having those conversations three or four years ago because of the level of where our program is. Now we're still having it. Now if a kid is choosing between Virginia Tech, Maryland and Penn State, that's a decision that's now ACC, Big Ten, Big Ten that used to be ACC, ACC Big Ten so a kid who wants a Big Ten experience now has a different set of options.
TC: What about scheduling this year. Have you put together a schedule this year with at least one eye looking forward to next year knowing that the level of competition meet to meet is going to step up a level?
KM: Not really. The one thing we tried to do this year was to include more Big Ten competition which actually didn't work out but last year we had four Big Ten teams on our schedule. This year we only have one. I wanted to go and wrestle Michigan and Michigan State but Michigan State couldn't make it so we're wrestling Michigan this year. I wanted to go out and wrestle Indiana and Purdue and couldn't fit it into the schedule because the weekend we had open didn't work for those guys. But the effort wasn't really for the competition but was more for the travel so we could get used to that schedule. The Big Ten schedule for wrestling is Thursday travel, Friday compete. Then travel Saturday and compete on Sunday. So I wanted to try and get used to doing that now but we've always have a very competitive schedule. We've wrestled at least one school from every conference for the most part every year that we were here including schools like Lehigh that's a perennial top ten program this year we wrestle Cornell that's been top five in the country for the last four or five years. We've tightened it up a little bit this year because we're going out to California to wrestle at Stanford and in a Tournament out there. Would I have liked to have put two or three different duals in a weekend, yes but at the same time we're going to get to wrestle west coast teams that we don't always get to see.
TC: Speaking of travel, what about some of the distances Maryland will have to travel?
KM: Rutgers and Penn State and maybe Ohio State we can bus to. It's pretty easy to get to Michigan - a direct flight to Detroit - Chicago for Illinois and Northwestern. The fun trips are going to be the ones to Nebraska or Iowa flying into Cedar Falls and having to drive to Iowa City. The trickiest thing about moving to the Big Ten is the Big Ten is going to be a nine dual meet schedule and we have sixteen dates of competition so that leaves us seven dates to get in two or three tournaments and then our local rivalries like American and Navy and then the ACC schools. We'd like to keep the rivalry with Virginia or Virginia Tech. So that'll be tricky trying to balance only seven dates of competition and trying to plug in some of the teams that we've wrestled year in and year out.
TC: This is a little off topic but how did you feel about the rescue of wrestling for the Olympics?
KM: It was a pretty crazy seven months. I remember that Tuesday morning when my wife told me about, I thought it was the biggest social media hoax ever. By one o'clock the committee was formed and had our first conference call at two and went to work making calls every week for seven months. About a month out we felt pretty confident we were going to be on the right side of the decision but it's like an election until the actual votes are cast you never know. Squash and softball put up great bids and it's unfortunate that we had to be put up against those sports that could really use the exposure of the Olympics. I remember the decision came on a Sunday and I was in church but I was so nervous that I had to step out and I pulled my phone out. I wanted to scream but I was in church!
TC: Anything else you'd like folks to know?
KM: There are a lot of great programs at Maryland but wrestling's won more ACC Championships than any other school in the conference. We've won more ACC Championships than any other sport at the University of Maryland. We have more individual ACC Champions than any other program in the conference. Something people generally don't know is that we've averaged two All-Americans a year in the last five years and we finished tenth in the nation five years ago. The tradition and the structure of our program is long and storied and one that deserves support.