Following a 47-3 defeat at the hands of No. 1 Penn State, Maryland wrestling (4-9, 0-7 Big Ten) will face No. 15 Illinois (4-3, 3-2 Big Ten) on Sunday, with the Terps seeking their first Big Ten victory.
But given the timing of the team's last conference road match, that mission could prove difficult for the struggling Terps. Coach Kerry McCoy said coming off winter break can be a tough transition, but he wants his players to focus down the stretch.
"You know, we get through this phase and then we start peaking through the end of the year," McCoy said. "[We need to] make sure we're recovering, we're getting enough sleep, eating right, controlling our weight and realize that everything we're doing is preparing us for March."
Maryland has continued to falter in the Big Ten, which currently boasts 10 ranked programs — four of which are in the top 10.
While the Fighting Illini are ranked No. 15, they have just three ranked wrestlers. That's fewer than any Big Ten team Maryland has faced this season.
No. 2 Isaiah Martinez is Illinois' most touted performer, lining up at the 165 position. He's the 2015 and 2016 national champion and 2017 runner-up in his weight class, as well as a three time All-American. He is 7-0 on the year, with one forfeit.
Illinois is also favored in the 184 class behind No. 6 Emery Parker, who is 15-1 this season.
Even so, the meet remains one of Maryland's best chances to earn a Big Ten victory, given several repeats of matchups the Terps took in their 30-15 loss to Illinois last season.
The most promising are the 149, 197 and heavyweight classes. Last year, 149-pounder Alfred Bannister won by fall over Illinois' Eric Barone, 197-pounder David-Brian Whisler won over Illinois' Andre Lee by a 4-3 decision and heavyweight Youssif Hemida won by injury default over Illinois' Deuce Rachal.
Hemida, a team captain, said he's looking for his team to put in complete effort throughout the entirety of each dual, even if they're down and can't get the win.
"If you end the match with a loss or we lose a dual meet, I want whoever on their team won … to be like, 'Wow, that guy was tough,'" Hemida said.