The Terrapin Duals
The team's first four duals were one of the team's high points of the year, which is laughable because the competition was so poor. Without being at all facetious, high school wrestling powerhouses Blair Academy and Apple Valley would have been far better challengers and probably would have fared as well or better than some of the schools that Maryland wrestled on November 2nd in College Park.
Maryland crushed Johns Hopkins (a Division II school) and Alderson-Broaddus and recorded big wins over Kutztown and Davidson.
These duals are silly and they are the equivalent of Maryland Basketball scheduling weakling schools at the beginning of the year. They beat up on them to try and build momentum for the year.
I should mention here that All-American heavyweight Spencer Myers was playing football this season and did not join the team until after the team's bowl game. He made his first start in January.
Trouble in River City
For those that are not theatrically inclined, this heading comes from the musical 'The Music Man'. Maryland lost its first big dual of the year to lowly George Mason after beating them 35-3 the year before. They tied George Mason but lost on criteria, which is a wrestling term that means the tie-breakers used to determine the outcome if a match ends in a tie. Maryland's wrestlers scored fewer combined points than George Mason's did and the Patriots left College Park with a win.
Head Coach Kerry McCoy used back-up wrestlers in the first four matches but with a program that wants to stay in the top-20 every year, this was a massive goose egg. The season was salvageable but it was clear that this was not going to be a competitive dual team at all, even when Myers returned. Had Myers been wrestling in the dual, Maryland would have won. McCoy knew months before the season started that he wasn't going to have Myers for this match and it was on him to put a team on the mat that was capable of winning.
Big Ten Time
Maryland hit the road for their first ever Big Ten duals and they both came against top-20 teams in Wisconsin and Nebraska. Maryland lost to Wisconsin 28-12, which doesn't look terrible on the surface until you realize that Wisconsin forfeited at 133 (their 133, Ryan Taylor would take 7th in St. Louis and become an All-American). In that light, Maryland won two of nine matches. Maryland got out-scored 28-6 in those nine matches. That's a terrible performance.
And it gets worse. Nebraska, a team ranked in the top-10, completely lit Maryland up. The Terps allowed what would become a season-high 42 points and only won one match (Geoffrey Alexander was ranked in the top-15 and prevailed over a top-20 opponent). File that note about Geoffrey away for later because we will return to it. The final score was 42-3. This was an abysmal, I-can't-watch performance. There's no way to spin this. It was a talented team beating the stuffing out of a far, far less talented team.
Maryland got beaten badly again by Pitt (26-9) and then returned to College Park for their first ever Big Ten home dual. They were hosting the four-time defending national champion Penn State Nittany Lions. As one might expect, it did not go well. Penn State won nine of ten matches (only Shyheim Brown got a win) and crushed Maryland 38-3.
Maryland took their losing streak on the road to the Grapple at the Garden in Madison Square Garden and dropped two more duals against Hofstra and Duke (DUKE!). Hofstra beat Maryland 29-12. Maryland had beaten Duke 37-7 the year before but the Blue Devils reduced the Terps to a laughingstock after drubbing them 24-9.
The losing streak was at seven heading into the Midlands and it was apparent that even with Spencer Myers back in the line-up, this team was simply not equipped to beat good teams. Duke had one of the best seasons in their entire history this season but they still weren't a great team. They were a pretty good team and Maryland couldn't beat them.
The Midlands is a great and competitive tournament but results at the Midlands don't equate to victories at NCAA's. Maryland showed that they are a far better tournament team than a dual team and took a surprising eighth, with Josh Snook taking fourth as Maryland highest finisher. Brown and Mascola also placed, while Alexander got to the quarterfinals but dropped his next two in a row and bowed out.
Once again we see the issue with looking at one tournament and one result and extrapolating from it. Snook did not have a great season and did not make the NCAA Tournament even though he had a great Midlands tournament. Some wrestlers heat up after the Midlands like Lou Mascola did. Some cool off like Geoffrey Alexander and Shyheim Brown.
Dawson Peck, the team's future at heavyweight placed in this tournament but his points were not added to the team total because he was wrestling unattached.
The Last Win
Maryland last dual win of the season came against Harvard on January 9th when Myers returned to the starting line-up. The Terps were gifted six points at the start of the dual but it was tied at 18 apiece going into heavyweight. Maryland had lost critical, winnable matches that could have sealed the dual before that. Myers was in terrible wrestling shape and had only been in the practice room for about a week. His conditioning was frankly awful but he won 2-0 and got the team the win. Myers' conditioning, or lack thereof, would play a role in the next dual a couple of days later.
Navy came in and Maryland raced out to a 15-3 lead with five matches left. They gave up a major, a pin, a major and a decision and trailed 20-15 going into heavyweight. Myers had to get a pin to win or a tech-fall to tie (but the team likely would have lost again on criteria). Myers was in no shape to pursue a tech-fall and never exhibited any real kind of serious aggressiveness on offense that would have led to a pin. Maryland lost 20-18.
Lehigh came in afterwards and wiped the floor with Maryland 35-3. Geoffrey Alexander picked up a big win against a former All-American but he would struggle mightily after it. Maryland dropped a winnable match against yet another local rival and got blown out by a far, far better team.
Back to Big Ten Play
Rutgers came into College Park and beat Maryland 24-11. It took the Terps until the 157 pound weight class (that's the fifth match out of ten) to get on the board. Alexander got upset and Brown lost a close match. Rob Fitzgerald beat a ranked opponent in dramatic fashion and Myers beat a top-15 opponent in overtime to close the dual even though the result was already decided.
Same song, different verse for the Terps when Ohio State (the eventual national champions) came to town. The final score was 31-9. Once again, Mascola was the first Maryland wrestler to win in this dual.
Maryland went to Champagne, Illinois to take on Illinois and they suffered one of their worse losses of the year. They lost 32-3 and faced the prospect of being shut-out until Ben Dorsay won the final match in the final seconds.
Two top-five teams came to College Park for a weekend as Iowa and Minnesota arrived to close out Maryland's home schedule. Iowa blasted the Terps 33-3 with only Lou Mascola getting a win. He beat Michael Kelly, who had beaten him earlier in the year.
Minnesota won 34-12 but wrestled a back-up in the last match and gifted Maryland six points because their top-ranked 133 did not travel with the team that weekend.
Maryland's final dual was a winnable one and came against Northwestern. Northwestern had been forfeiting at 174 all year long so Maryland knew they were getting six points. It didn't matter. The Terps stormed back to make it interesting but Myers couldn't overcome the three-time All-American (he became a four-time All-American in St. Louis) in Mike McMullan, who won by decision to make it a 26-18 win for the Wildcats. In the end, the Terps only won two out of nine matches with the forfeit giving Maryland an additional six points.
Big Stage, Big Fall
McCoy said going into the Big Ten tournament that he was confident and truly believed that his team could place in the top half (meaning the top seven) in the conference. He could not have been more wrong. The team went 0-10 in the first round. Two of Maryland's wrestlers got byes into the next round of consolations but only three wrestlers survived the first round of consolations. Maryland was down to five wrestlers going into the second round of consolations where three of them lost.
Myers placed 7th, Mascola placed 8th and Alexander tweaked his hamstring and medical forfeited out of his 11th/12th place match so he took 12th.
Maryland placed dead last as a team and they didn't just have a bad score by that year's standards. They had the third-worst score at the Big Ten Championships in the last 30 years! McCoy tried to say that a few matches here and there would have completely changed the team's performance. There were winnable matches and had a few things gone just a tiny, tiny bit differently, the whole story would have been different. But I don't deal in should-haves or could-haves. I deal in what happened and what didn't happen.
Whether it was pressure or just the intense level and quality of competition they were facing, the Terps fell flat on their face on the biggest stage with their first real chance to impress teams and fans around the Big Ten. They failed miserably and despite their opportunities, only three Maryland wrestlers qualified to wrestle at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis.
The NCAA Championships
Geoffrey Alexander had a big problem. He was on a serious slide going into the national tournament. His last win, besides his forfeit that he took against Minnesota, had come against Lehigh on January 11th. He won one match against an over-matched opponent at Big Tens but only went 1-3 in the tournament. It was now March 19th. Alexander lost his first two matches and a promising season that started with him in the top-15 soon dissipated.
Lou Mascola won his pig-tail match against a Duke kid (Immanuel Kerr-Brown) that had beaten him earlier in the season and then pulled off a dramatic upset against fifth seeded Cody Pack to launch himself into the second round. He lost a close match to a former All-American in Mitch Minotti and got matched up with Alex Elder of Oregon State in the wrestle-backs. The match was going well until Elder took Mascola down and tilted him twice. Mascola tried to claw his way back but it was too little, too late. His season was over.
Spencer Myers is an interesting case-study because at NCAA's and in his wrestling career in general, his greatest opponent that he could never seem to beat was himself. He never used his best skills and assets to his advantage and never fulfilled the promise that seemed so inevitable after he took 6th in the country in his freshman campaign.
It seemed like Myers was putting it together when he repeatedly shot in on, took down and upset third-seeded Bobby Telford of Iowa, a two-time All-American in his own right who had beaten Myers earlier in the season. Myers went to overtime with his second round opponent but pinned him in the ride-outs to advance to the quarterfinals.
That overtime match scared Myers and caused him to stop doing what had gotten him to that point. McCoy told me that Myers "wrestled a little tighter as the tournament went on". Myers could have beaten Adam Coon of Michigan (who finished as the national runner-up) but he couldn't beat both Coon and himself. Myers had one last shot to become an All-American in his senior season and it came against a kid that he had beaten in sudden victory in overtime in College Park, Michael Kroells of Minnesota.
Myers didn't attack. He didn't use what had brought him so much success over his career and instead opted to play it safe. They went to overtime, to ride-outs, to double overtime and to ride-outs once again. In the end, Kroells held the riding time advantage and was awarded the winning point in double overtime tie-breakers. It was an absolutely disheartening and excruciatingly painful way not just to lose a match, but to end a career on the cusp of becoming an All-American
This was McCoy's first season as a head coach at any school where he did not have any All-Americans. It was also one of his worst all-time place finishes as a head coach although he said that there was one that was worse at Stanford and that was in his first year there. McCoy said after Myers had been eliminated that "...we didn't realize our potential. We didn't get it done." McCoy said that the results hurt but he said that the team "didn't lay down for anybody".
McCoy hit the nail on the head when he said "We didn't get it done." He also said, "You don't get any points for good losses." This team simply didn't win matches when it needed to. It will take time to adjust to the exponential increase in quality of competition. For instance, Alexander had a stretch where he wrestled three straight top-10 opponents. They will have to get better. That starts in recruitment but also in the practice room.
Bottom Line: A New Hope
I'm breaking out a Star Wars reference for this one.
This team had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. (Don't you dare go watch the movie. Read the book!)
That being said, there is still a good amount to look forward to if you are a Maryland fan.
The talent level will go up, even with the departure of Spencer Myers, and Maryland's schedule can't possibly be as difficult as it was this season. They didn't face a single conference opponent ranked outside of the top-25 and only Rutgers, Wisconsin and Northwestern were ranked outside the top-10.
Fans will get their first real look at Alfred Bannister, Garrett Wesneski and Dawson Peck next year. Mascola, Snook and Geoffrey Alexander will be in their final year of eligibility and Tyler Goodwin returns from a red-shirt year. Transfer Mark Colabucci will probably find himself in the 184 spot and Shyheim Brown still potentially has two years of eligibility left if he wants them.
This team will be much better next year. There is certainly reason to hope for good things and even better results but if McCoy doesn't get improvement and results with the talent he has assembled on next year's squad, there may be reason to believe he is not the right man to lead this program into the future.
There can be no more steps backwards. The only steps that this program should be taking are steps forward. McCoy must win and he must do it next season. That is the bottom line.