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Maryland’s Youssif Hemida is hungry for redemption at wrestling NCAAs

Hemida just missed earning an All-American spot last year, but he’s about to get another chance.

Maryland wrestling Youssif Hemida Photo by Maryland Athletics

Maryland wrestling has struggled since joining the Big Ten in 2014. This season, the Terps finished their conference schedule winless for the second straight year. However, junior heavyweight Youssif Hemida has risen far above his teammates.

Last season, Hemida was a relatively unknown wrestler. His name only entered the conversation once the Big Ten and NCAA Championships came around. This season, he was ranked as high as sixth in the nation, according to InterMat Wrestling, and finished the regular season with a 24-2 record. He placed sixth at the Big Ten Championships, his best-ever finish in the nation’s toughest wrestling conference. Now he enters the NCAA Championships as a contender to finish in the top eight of his weight class, which would make him an All-American.

“Based on my season this year, I have every ability to be an All-American,” Hemida said. “It’s just doing it at this point. Even after the whole season, whatever I did this season is good and all, but it doesn’t mean much for what happens in the postseason.”

For Hemida, this season has been an adjustment period, both physically and mentally. Hemida is now the person to beat, something that he has never dealt with before, and this has presented new hurdles he’s dealt with throughout the season.

“Not every day we’re going to be feeling our best, but we still have to come here and push through the workouts. In past years, I struggled through those workouts,“ Hemida said. “Now this year, just being mentally tough and grinding through a long season, staying fresh mentally, that’s made me feel confident.”

However, he has the benefit of training with his coach, former heavyweight Olympian and two-time national champion Kerry McCoy, who’s been there every step of the way for the past three years.

“After the NCAA Tournament, we sat down, we talked and said, ‘Think back to last year. Think of all the areas where you may not have been 100 percent all in, a little bit off here, a little bit off there,’“ McCoy said. “The idea from that point on was, don’t be able to look back next year and say you’ve got those same areas.”

It’s not just about an improved mental state for Hemida. He’s also out for revenge at the NCAA Tournament. Last season, he finished a win short of becoming an All-American, losing in the fourth round of wrestlebacks (NCAA’s term for consolation bracket). That missed opportunity has stuck with him over the past season.

“I use that and try to make it a good thing to motivate me,” Hemida said. “Now that I’m here, now that I have my chance again, it will be pretty cool to be an All-American.”

With that comes a sense of eagerness to want to get to that point, but McCoy stressed with him the importance of taking it one match at a time.

“For him, it’s all just making sure his mind is right, believing in himself, having confidence, and not looking forward, not looking behind, but really enjoying the moment he has right now,“ McCoy said.

These last few weeks are more about mental preparation and toughness than anything for Hemida. He already knows what he needs to do in terms of technique, something that McCoy has trained with him throughout the season. Now, the junior is focused on that mental preparation for matches.

“Something that I learned from [McCoy] is that feeling good is overrated,” Hemida said. “Regardless of what someone says to you or how you feel, you still gotta go out there and compete.”

However, it’s not easy to perform in the spotlight. McCoy knows that Hemida is prepared for March, and the clock in the wrestling practice room that has been counting down to the NCAAs is motivation enough. The Championships run from March 15-17 in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Within two weeks from now, he’s gonna either achieve his goal or not achieve it,“ McCoy said. “If he looks at it like, ‘To be an All-American, I need to win this match, or I have to beat this guy,’ that’s not what it is.

“In order to be an All-American, he just needs to go out and wrestle to the best of his abilities and not worry about anything else.”