Three Maryland wrestlers — 141-pounder Ryan Diehl, 149-pounder Alfred Bannister and heavyweight Youssif Hemida — secured NCAA tournament qualifications after just the first day of the Big Ten tournament on Saturday.
And one more Terp could still qualify. While 165-pounder Brendan Burnham went 2-2 on the day, he remains in the running for the NCAAs because the conference enters 10 wrestlers in his weight class. His qualification will be decided Sunday, though he will not have a shot at a podium finish.
Coach Kerry McCoy said he was pleased with the consistency and effort he's seen from Diehl, Bannister and Hemida over the past few weeks.
"I think we wrestled well today. … It's a good indicator for the direction and the place where we're moving," McCoy said. "We've still got to continue to build, but it's nice for those three guys to do a good job representing us."
Bannister and Hemida were the standout performers across the board for Maryland. They were the only two Terps to win their first match in the championship round, with Bannister notching a win against Wisconsin's No. 10-seed Cole Martin by a 14-6 major decision and Hemida tallying a 8-3 decision over Wisconsin's Ben Stone.
Both wrestlers, however, failed to earn a victory in the second round of championship matches. Bannister's match was extremely close, as he lost by just a 4-3 decision to No. 2-seed Brandon Sorensen of Iowa.
But Hemida and Bannister — the only two ranked wrestlers on Maryland's squad — both earned byes in the consolation bracket, with a chance to finish as high as third. They then won two matches apiece to end their first day of play 3-1.
Hemida especially impressed in his first consolation match against Nebraska's David Jensen. He fell Jensen only 45 seconds into the first period to earn a sudden victory.
"I think he needed to really bounce back after his quarterfinal loss, and that was a good way to do it," McCoy said.
While Diehl secured a tournament berth and out-wrestled his seed, he didn't secure a chance at the fourth or better finish he had set as his goal earlier this week.
He came close to it, though. Diehl led Wisconsin's Eli Stickley 4-1 through the first two periods of his second consolation match after his third four point near fall of the day. But Stickley had a nearfall of his own to take a 5-4 lead in the third period. With a shift in momentum, Stickley earned an advantage on riding time, and Diehl lost by a 6-4 decision.
Still, Diehl has a shot at a seventh-place podium finish on Sunday, when he faces Nebraska's Chad Red. Red defeated Diehl by a 6-0 decision in his first match of the day, as well as earlier this season, so the Terp has an extra incentive.
"It's a big motivation to get that win back, especially after losing to him twice this year," Diehl said. "Being able to finish the week of with a win would be great and getting a revenge win would be even better."