The Maryland sports offseason is here, and it was a wild year for Terrapin athletics. There were national championships in men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse, and a trip to the title game in field hockey. Maryland athletes won some of the highest honors in their sports. But there were also some lows, both on and off the field.
This summer, we’ve been taking an in-depth look at each of Maryland’s varsity programs, exploring where they’ve been and where they’re going. We’ve hit nine sports so far, and now we’ll look at one of Maryland’s worst teams in recent years, wrestling.
All-time record: 622-416-21
Last 5 years: 19-68, 1-44 Big Ten
The coach: Alex Clemsen (entering first season)
2018-19: 2-12, 0-9 Big Ten
Where it’s been
Wrestling has never been one of Maryland’s signature sports, but back in the day, it dominated the ACC. The program was at its best under Sully Krouse, who was the head coach from 1946-78. The team didn’t lose a single conference match from 1953 to 1969 and finished first in the ACC tournament each of those seasons.
Fast forward to modern ACC days with Kerry McCoy and the team still managed to remain on the higher end of league standings. Under McCoy, the Terps won three ACC championships and finished each season with a winning record.
Since joining the daunting Big Ten in 2014, though, Maryland wrestling has struggled immensely. The team has gone 1-44 in five years of conference play. The only bright spots came from individual wrestlers’ accomplishments — heavyweight Youssif Hemida earned All-American honors in 2018 and 2019, but his team faltered around him.
Where it’s going
In March, McCoy resigned from his position as head coach after 11 seasons. Then in April, Alex Clemsen was announced as the new head coach. Clemsen had a successful run as the associate head coach at Missouri, developing three NCAA individual title winners and 22 All-Americans, and he hopes to turn Maryland back into a competitive program.
On May 28, Nicholas Brascetta and Devin Mellon were named assistant coaches, though only one actually has paid coaching experience. Brascetta was an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for the past two seasons, helping the Mocs to a regular-season Southern Conference title and coaching a conference Freshman of the Year and Wrestler of the Year. Mellon had volunteer assistant jobs at Missouri and Oregon State, and he’s familiar with Clemsen after wrestling with the Tigers under him.
Names to know
There aren’t a lot of notable names left within the wrestling program. Maryland’s three best wrestlers of the last few years — Hemida, Alfred “Baby J” Bannister and Ryan Diehl — all graduated in the spring. That leaves the Terps with just three wrestlers who managed to win a Big Ten dual meet last season: 125-pounder Brandon Cray, 165-pounder Philip Spadafora and 184-pounder Niko Capello. Combined, they went 5-20 in conference matches last season.
Clemsen has said that he sees a lot of talent left on Maryland’s roster that he plans to develop, and has made it clear that’s his first priority. Another option with potential is sophomore King Sandoval. He only played in open competition while serving a redshirt season in 2018-19, but performed well. He pinned eight opponents in those competitions, and this summer he finished third at the U23 Greco World Team Trials despite coming in unseeded.
The program is in desperate need of talented recruits, but no additions have been announced yet so far and no freshmen are currently listed on the online roster. However, Clemsen has been known as an elite recruiter throughout his career and has done a lot since being hired to increase the visibility of the program, including running multiple summer camps in midwest areas with lots of talent.
The mission for Maryland sets a pretty low bar for itself: finish with a Big Ten dual meet victory and start to show improvement. The team has just one conference win since joining in 2014, a 26-10 win against Michigan State on Jan. 10, 2016. The Big Ten is the clear best wrestling conference in the country, making competition very stiff, but it’s a very bad look for the program to go another season without a single conference win.
The team should also look to develop players more for postseason runs. Hemida went far in the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons to become a two-time All-American, but no one else in the program has been named an All-American since the conference change in 2014. Diehl and Bannister made the tournament last year, but were knocked out early.