In April, I wrote a column stating that Maryland wrestling had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. I sat down with Maryland wrestling head coach Kerry McCoy to talk about the upcoming season and what lessons were learned from the team's brutal first year in the Big Ten.
The Terrapins had a very poor season last year by almost any standard or metric.
Maryland went 5-15 overall and were 0-9 in Big Ten competition last season. Maryland was outscored 288-74 in conference duals. That's an average score of 32-8.22. In their non-conference matchups, the Terps lost to, among others, George Mason, Duke and Navy. Maryland got blown out in a multitude of matches last season, losing by 15 or more to Wisconsin, Nebraska, Pitt, Penn State, Hofstra, Duke, Lehigh, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota.
The Terrapins only scored three points against Nebraska, Penn State, Lehigh, Illinois and Iowa. That means that in five of Maryland's duals, the Terps only won one of the ten matches.
As poorly as the Terps performed in their dual matches last season, they did even worse in post-season competition. Maryland went 0-10 in the first round of the Big Ten championships and went on to record the third worst score at the Big Ten championships in the last 30 years. Maryland only sent three wrestlers to the NCAA Championships.
Two of the three performed somewhat well. Geoffrey Alexander was a quick two and out at the tournament at 133 pounds but he faced two great wrestlers. Both Lou Mascola and Spencer Myers won their first two matches, upsetting seeded wrestlers in the process. Mascola lost in the round of 16 and lost his first consolation match to finish 2-2 at 157. Myers, Maryland's heavyweight and a former All-American, lost in the quarters to the NCAA runner-up and lost in the round of 12 in absolutely heart-breaking fashion in double overtime tie-breaks.
Last year was the first season in McCoy's head coaching career where he failed to produce an All-American.
On takeaways from last season
"You don't have to accept settling for less."
McCoy stressed to me that he will not accept any kind of excuses. The team will continue to put intense work and focus into their preparation this season.
McCoy also told me that he is going to make sure that the team talks about their goals more often. The coaching staff and the players have to be on the same page. He said that the team will start and end each practice with discussing the team goals.
How have you and the team adjusted to the Big Ten?
"Our mindset and mentality needs to change."
McCoy said that his wrestlers need to make an adjustment mentally. It boils down to them making the decision to "Be the best you can be. Anytime. Anywhere."
McCoy said that there is an adjustment every year regardless of conference but Maryland will continue to adjust to the Big Ten. He also said that he wants to lower the injuries and off-the-mat issues that his team has dealt with in the past few seasons.
Do you feel any pressure on you or your team?
"We're focused on ourselves."
McCoy said that there is no pressure from the outside. He said that any pressure that exists should come from within his wrestlers to improve themselves.
What are your expectations for this season?
"We have to expect more."
McCoy said that he and the staff will be evaluating consistently. They will also work to make sure that the staff and the team are always keeping the goals in front of them. McCoy said that he is looking for improvement in every area.
Who would start at each weight class if the season started today?
125 - Michael Beck
133 - Geoffrey Alexander
141 - Alfred "Baby J" Bannister
149 - Shyheim Brown
157 - Lou Mascola
165 - Tyler Manion
174 - Josh Snook
184 - Mark Collabucci
197 - Garrett Wesneski
Heavyweight - Dawson Peck
Who are the leaders on this year's team?
"There are a lot of different area to look to for leadership."
Seniors Geoffrey Alexander and Lou Mascola will be the vocal and are the most senior (pun intended) leaders on the squad. Dawson Peck and Alfred Bannister are two younger guys that will provide leadership as well.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of this year's squad?
"We want to win and we want to win now."
McCoy said that there is a fight and attitude of "We want to be the best." He says that the new guys are bringing that in.
McCoy said there are going to be guys that turn some heads this season. He also said that the team shouldn't take anything for granted.
They need to have a national championship lifestyle if they want to take the step towards actually becoming champions.
How does this team look in terms of depth?
"We're relatively balanced."
McCoy said that the team is balanced depth-wise but the team doesn't have many formidable options behind their starters.
He stressed that there will be opportunities for guys to step up this season.
On trying to avoid the injury bug
McCoy's squad has been hit by a number of concussions and skin infections during the past few seasons. McCoy said hygiene is important and injuries will play a factor in how well this team performs this season.
In fairness to Maryland, every team that they played in Big Ten competition was ranked. Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State, Nebraska, and Ohio State were top-10 teams. Northwestern, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Illinois were all ranked in the top-25 as well.
Maryland has a reprieve this season. They will face Michigan State at home and Indiana on the road. I expect them to win both of those matches. Purdue and Rutgers are two road matches that Maryland should be competitive in as well.
This year's conference schedule will be easier than last year's schedule. That should bode well for Maryland's confidence and seeding going into the Big Ten championships.
McCoy said that the goal every year is for the team to win the national championship. It's a great goal but it is completely unrealistic for this program at this point in time. Focus on beating Pitt, Hofstra, Purdue, Rutgers and Navy before you even start thinking about taking home that kind of hardware.
As far as line-ups go, the Terps look pretty good from 125 to 157.
Beck is getting thrown to the wolves with all of the Big Ten talent at 125. Alexander still finds himself in one of the deepest weight classes in the country. The 12th and 13th-best Big Ten wrestlers at 133 were ranked in the top-25 last season. Alexander had a very long losing streak after the Midlands and had a very bad post-season. He needs to be consistently great throughout the season to increase his chances of getting on the podium at the end of the season.
Redshirt freshman Alfred Bannister will probably start the season ranked even though he has never wrestled varsity competition at the college level. The hype is warranted. This kid is for real.
Shyheim Brown has a problem with consistency and lost his aggressiveness after placing at the Midlands. He never got it back and he went on a long losing streak.
Mascola is probably the most exciting Maryland wrestler to watch. After placing at the Midlands last year, he caught fire. When he is in attack mode, he piles up points. He needs to unleash that throughout the course of the season. When he doesn't, he loses to guys like Immanuel Kerr-Brown in dual matches.
The second half of Maryland's line-up is where most of the question marks lie. Dawson Peck placed at the Midlands last year and will need to be aggressive in order to beat Big Ten heavyweights. He has extraordinary talent. Can McCoy get him to maximize it?
Tyler Manion did not beat anyone last season at 165 after getting three wins at the Terrapin Duals. Health will be a key for him and it remains to be seen just how much he has improved from last year.
Garrett Wesneski is another redshirt freshman who was highly touted but hasn't faced this kind of competition before. How will he handle the grind of facing the country's top wrestlers week in and week out?
Mark Collabucci is a question mark at 184. He transferred in from West Virginia last spring. He went 22-24 in the two years that he wrestled for WVU. Nothing that I have seen makes me think that he will be a game-changer for the Terps but he will probably be more productive than Tony Gardner, who went 1-16 at the weight, last season.
Finally, there is Josh Snook at 174. Snook went 13-15 last season and placed at the Midlands. He was one match away from getting an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Championships. He was only 8-13 against Division I opponents last year but he wasn't healthy for most of the season. If Snook can stay healthy, he will probably qualify for the NCAA Championships. If not, Maryland may not get much more out of him than they did last season.
McCoy has a more balanced and more talented overall line-up than he had at his disposal last year. Barring injuries that have plagued this team for years, Maryland should get their first-ever Big Ten dual win and perform better in dual and tournament competition than they did last season.
Let's be clear. Maryland will not win the Big Ten. Maryland will not win the national championship. That goal is great but Maryland's goal should be to focus on improving so that one day, that goal will be more realistic than it is laughable. That is the bottom line.