A year ago, the Maryland wrestling team traveled to Madison Square Garden for the NCAA Wrestling Championships with one participant. This season, the Terps qualified four.
The Terps have 133-pounder Billy Rappo, 141-pounder Ryan Diehl, 149-pounder Alfred Bannister and heavyweight Youssif Hemida set to compete for a national championship in St. Louis this weekend.
Each wrestler has the same thing on his mind: getting his hand raised.
"Going into this, it's all about winning, man," Bannister said. "No matter how you do it. One point, overtime, it doesn't matter who it's against. Just get the W and become a national champ."
Coach Kerry McCoy has preached the "get your hand raised" concept all season with this meet as the final chance. McCoy expects the four grapplers are ready for the opportunity to battle for All-American and national-title distinction.
Each wrestler has endured trials this season, but they believe they've earned their spot in the top competition.
Bannister opened the season undefeated in duals before a knee injury kept him off the mat for the final month of the regular season. Meanwhile, Rappo switched weight classes after spending two months at 141 pounds.
Diehl didn't make his dual match debut until Feb. 3 due to injury, while Hemida rebounded from a 1-5 start to finish 12-6 in duals. Despite the obstacles, the team said the championships represent a clean slate.
"At this point in the tournament, everyone is 0-0," Hemida said. "Everyone is at the same level. Anyone can beat anyone."
Bannister was the only member to earn a seed — No. 13 — in his weight class and will face unseeded Hunter Ladnier of Harvard.
The redshirt sophomore said missing time with his injury means he hasn't wrestled at his peak form in a while, but he feels ready. Even as the highest-seeded Terp, Bannister relishes the opportunity to upset his top foes.
"I see it as being the dark horse, and I know what I'm capable of," Bannister said. "I see it as a great opportunity to shock the world."
The other three qualifiers are unseeded and facing ranked grapplers. Diehl will battle against the No. 4 seed in his class while Rappo faces the No. 2. Hemida clashes with Lock Haven's No. 14 Thomas Haines, who defeated him at the Cavalier Duals in November.
Like Bannister, the trio is ready for the challenge.
"I love being the underdog. It gets that kind of hype behind you," Diehl said. "You get more momentum when you have the crowd behind you. Everybody doesn't want the big guy to win. They always want the small guy."
The Terps haven't touted four grapplers in the tournament since qualifying five in 2014. It'll be the quartet's national championships debut, and McCoy is excited for them to start.
When they do, the coach's message will be the same.
"Winning is winning," McCoy said. "That's the goal at this point. Get your hand raised five times and you're a national champ, and that's what we want to focus on. Don't worry about trying to make it look good or look fancy, just get your hand raised and get it done."