After a disappointing start to the season and a historically poor performance at the Midlands tournament, the winless Maryland wrestling team has nowhere to go but up.
Even though the Terps won more collective matches at this season’s Midlands than last season, they did not have a single wrestler place in the top eight in any weight class for the first time since 1989.
There is, however, room for optimism, in the form of All-American heavyweight Youssif Hemida and the conference schedule.
Hemida missed the first month of the season before debuting with a 5th-place finish at the F&M Open this past weekend, and the senior will lead the Terps into road duals against Purdue and Indiana this weekend as the team searches for just its second Big Ten win in program history.
“We’ve got 11 duals left,” coach Kerry McCoy said, “and an opportunity to knock off some individually ranked guys and some good teams.”
Maryland’s formula for success becomes clearer with the return of Hemida, who has been a standout since his sophomore year. The Mamaroneck, New York, native has fallen from No. 4 to No. 8 in the heavyweight rankings, and he is ready to show he belongs back in the upper-echelon of heavyweights in the nation.
“[The ranking] doesn’t really matter,” Hemida said “I want to walk the walk. I don’t want to say I’m the best in the country, I want to go out there and prove that.”
Hemida was frustrated while he sat out, knowing he could only do so much while his team lost all three of its dual meets in lopsided fashion.
“It was hard,” he said. “I wanted to help out more by being the actual one wrestling, but now I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
Hemida’s delayed start means his first dual will be a conference one, raising the stakes of his abbreviated season.
Hemida can’t do it all by himself, though, and 174-pounder Josh Ugalde showed promise at Midlands, exceeding expectations but losing to Army’s Ben Harvey in the blood round, falling one match short of placing in the top eight.
Ugalde is looking to ride this momentum into the second half of the season.
“It definitely was a good confidence booster,” Ugalde said. “The first part of the season didn’t go as planned, but we’re heading on the right track.”
Despite the disappointing 0-3 start to the year, McCoy has been pleased with the effort his team has shown and believes it is “moving in the right direction.” The early results indicate that there is still more work to do, but the Terps have a fortunate Big Ten schedule, with perennial powers Penn State and Ohio State absent from the slate.
“It’s nice to be able to go out there and have a chance,” McCoy said with a laugh. “Any time you step foot on the mat you have an opportunity, but when you wrestle Penn State and Ohio State … the odds are a little stacked against you.”
But McCoy knows that that doesn’t mean the team is guaranteed any wins.
“Just like how we’re looking at [opponents] like they’re not Penn State and Ohio State,” McCoy said, “they’re saying the same thing about us.”
After years of failing to rise to the level of the vaunted Big Ten, McCoy and Ugalde both say they’re ready to show they belong.
“We also want people to have to prepare for us,” Ugalde said, “instead of just us preparing for others.”