Maryland wrestler Youssif Hemida walked off the mat in St. Louis on March 17 after falling to Arizona State's Tanner Hall. The heavyweight had wrestled his final match in the NCAA Championships, marking the end of the Terps' 2016-17 campaign.
They endured many lows, winning just two duals and finishing winless in the Big Ten. However, an impressive showing at the Big Ten Championships earned four grapplers bids to the NCAA tournament to end the season on a positive note.
That's why the Terps feel they have a promising future.
"It's encouraging to see that we've made progress and that we've improved from last year," coach Kerry McCoy said. "The progress we've made — scoring points, winning matches — it's definitely a step in the right direction."
The Terps (2-16, 0-9 Big Ten) began the season with a young squad, as 133-pounder Billy Rappo was the only senior who competed all year. They got their first two wins early, defeating Columbia on Nov. 27 and George Mason on Dec. 9, posting a 2-4 record through their first six matches.
Then, the skid hit.
Maryland didn't earn a dual win in January or February. Throughout, the Terps lamented small mistakes in several single-digit losses. Injuries were a factor, too, with several key members missing time.
"When you have talented guys not in your lineup, it hurts, but it's those things that we have to deal with," McCoy said before the Big Ten tournament. "These guys just have to be able to rise above it."
The Terps, though, experienced individual success when they traveled to Bloomington, Indiana, for the Big Ten Championships. Despite going winless in the conference during the regular season, the Terps finished 11th out of 14 teams.
Three sophomore grapplers -— -141-pounder Ryan Diehl, 149-pounder Alfred Bannister and Hemida — earned podium finishes. Along with Rappo, they each secured a bid to the NCAA Championships.
Rappo exited the final tournament after two matches, while Diehl advanced in the consolation bracket via a medical forfeit. Bannister won his opening match and once in consolations before bowing out.
Hemida, meanwhile, made it the furthest, rattling off three victories before losing to Hall by one point, just short of All-American status.
The sophomores' collective performance this season, coupled with the emergence of other underclassmen, gives Rappo hope for his soon-to-be alma mater.
"Hopefully the younger guys kind of follow through and come in and do better each and every year, which is what they're supposed to do," Rappo said after the Big Ten Championships. "I think we're on the right path, which is really good."
To replace Rappo, McCoy expects Tyler Goodwin, the team's lone NCAA qualifier prior to the season, to return from his indefinite absence this season.
Along with Goodwin, the three returning qualifiers are eager to share their postseason experience. Hemida believes his teammates can mirror his example.
"We all come back in that room and have that experience under our belt and can be those guys leading everyone else," Hemida said. "We can show them that it's hard, but it's not that hard. You have to do the right things, work, get after it, go out there and win matches.
"It's all within reach."