All season long, Maryland wrestling coach Kerry McCoy has emphasized the importance of March. That time is finally here as the Terps enter Big Ten tournament competition on Saturday.
The team focused on execution and mental toughness to prepare for the tournament, which will determine qualifications for the NCAA tournament.
"You're not getting much stronger, you're not getting in much better shape, you're not going to get much better technically," McCoy said. "So mentally, just making sure that you're focused and ready to execute when the time comes is what I'm trying to hammer in."
Brackets for the tournament were released Friday. Only two wrestlers in each weight class received byes, so all Maryland wrestlers will face competition in the first round.
Brandon Cray (11-13) will make his first-ever Big Ten tournament appearance in the 125 weight class as a No. 13 seed. He'll face No. 4-seed Sebastian Rivera (22-3) from Northwestern.
In the 133 weight class, Jhared Simmons (2-15) will wrestle tough competition in No. 1-seed Stevan Micic (18-2) of Michigan.
Ryan Diehl (11-9) is facing No. 4-seed Chad Red (18-7) of Nebraska in the 141 class. Diehl placed fifth last year after defeating three top-20 opponents — the highest finish for any Maryland wrestler at the tournament. This year, the redshirt junior is determined to go even further.
"It's a big motivation. You always want to do better than you did before," Diehl said. "I'm only expecting to do top four. I just want to keep gaining … climbing on these better kids. You're not going to be the best unless you take out the best."
No. 7-seed Alfred Bannister (19-6) will go up against No. 10-seed Cole Martin (15-10) of Wisconsin as a 149-pounder.
Bannister won seven of his last eight matches of the regular season and will look to carry that momentum to the tournament, where he placed sixth last year coming in as a No. 4 seed.
Heavyweight Youssif Hemida (24-2) is the highest-seeded Terp at No. 5 and will wrestle Wisconsin's Ben Stone (6-16).
Hemida said his end-of-season focus was keeping a strong mindset amid the pressure after having the best year of his career.
"[If] you have a championship mentality when you go out there and you can beat anyone," Hemida said. "I've got to go out there and wrestle and just got to do my best and out-wrestle my seed. That's always been my goal."
Competition starts at 10 a.m. Saturday for the first session of matches, followed by quarterfinals of championship matches and the first round of consolation matches. Session two begins at 6 p.m. with semifinal matches and more consolation matches.
Final championship and placement matches will be held Sunday.
Even though Maryland couldn't notch any Big Ten dual meet wins as a team this season, the Terps are determined to use the clean slate to their advantage and perform on the stage they've been building toward all year.
"It's time to break through — this is the time where we step up and shine," Diehl said. "Get to the Big Tens, qualify and try to get on the All-American ladder."