The Maryland wrestling team opens up its 2007-08 season when it takes part in the Red & Black Wrestle-Offs on Thursday, October 25 at Comcast Pavilion. The inter-squad exhibition is slated to start at 7:30 p.m. for the Terrapins, who had a record-breaking 17-5 season last year.
On the heels of one of the best dual meet seasons in Maryland history, the Terps are looking to build on that success and take it even further. With two NCAA qualifiers from last year returning to the starting line-up, head coach Pat Santoro is looking for great things this season.
"We are expecting continual improvement," Santoro said. "We haven't had an All-American in 11 years and we're looking to have our first All-American and hopefully it will be more than one."
There is potential all over the Maryland line up to achieve that level of success. Sophomore Hudson Taylor was a point away last year as he lost in the round of 12 of the NCAA Tournament while Mike Letts qualified for NCAAs after capturing the 174 pound ACC Championship.
Other wrestlers such as Charlie Pinto, who has NCAA experience, and James Knox who was an All-ACC member last season have a chance to improve their skills on the mat and advance far in the postseason. Brendan Byrne was also an All-ACC honoree in 2006.
As a result, Santoro has set up a dual schedule that will challenge his team to better prepare them for the postseason. The Terps will face seven teams that finished in the top 25 last year while competing in such prestigious tournament as the Southern Scuffle and the Body Bar Systems Invitational.
"We have given the guys a very competitive schedule," Santoro said. "They are going to be better prepared at the end of the year. We're going to face nine or 10 teams ranked in the top 25 in the country and couple of top 10 teams. We're not focused on the dual meet season, though, we're focused on nationals. The dual meet schedule is going to prepare us for the postseason and ultimately that is what we are looking for."
And what Maryland is looking for is an ACC Championship and improvement at the NCAA level. Santoro has built the Terps to do just that.
"We should be solid at every weight class, but we just need to bring it to another level and they know that," Santoro said. "That's what we have been training for."
This could be a heavily contested weight class for Santoro as junior James Knox is a two-year starter returning for the Terps. Last year, Knox had an impressive season in 2006-07 as he went 15-13 with 11 of those victories coming in dual action. At the ACC Championship, Knox earned a second-place finish and All-ACC honors.
Knox will be challenged by a few wrestlers, though, as Brendan Byrne recently dropped down to that class from 133 where he was an ACC finalist in 2006 and Mookie Golden has been stellar on the practice mat in the off season, according to Santoro.
Casey Marwine, Jeff Oldham, Lou Ruland, and newcomer Will Sharbaugh will also compete for time at 125.
Steven Bell spent last year on the shelf with an injury but will return and is the favorite to start at 133 pounds. As a freshman in 2005-06, Bell went 12-9 in tournament action and took second place in the West Virginia, Wilkes Barre, and Buffalo Open.
Bell was highly touted coming out of high school as he was the 10th-best recruit in the 125 pound weight class and had top 10 finishes twice at the national freestyle championships while at Connellsville High School in Pennsylvania.
Senior Charlie Pinto is expecting to start at 141 pounds after splitting time with Alex Krom in 2006-07. Pinto went 16-4 last year with a solid 9-2 mark in dual competition. Pinto not only brings his skills to the mat, but his experience is also invaluable as he was a 2005 ACC Champion and has competed at NCAAs.
Jon Kohler will be challenging Pinto for the 141 spot after spending last season at the 133 class. He went 10-20 as the Terps' starter at 133.
Alex Krom, who spent most of last year as the Terps' starter at 141, will redshirt this season.
Three freshman come to Maryland to compete at 141 this year including Cory Biscaha, Matt Bogusz, and Dex Lederer. Biscaha was a District 21 and Region 6 Champion and a 2006 New Jersey state placer.
Bogusz was a 2007 District 11 Champion as well as three-time District 11 finalist while winning the 2007 Northeast Regional. Lederer also has an impressive resume coming in, as he was a three-time Pennsylvania Freestyle State Champion, a two-time Greco Roman State Champion, and a 2005 Cadet Freestyle All-American.
Talented freshman Eric Medina will push for the starting job at 149 pounds and Steve Fehnel will also challenge him for the spot. Medina was a three-time National Prep Champion, a Cadet Freestyle National Champion, two-time Ironman Champion, and the 2005 Beast of the East champion. He was ranked No. 1 in the country at 145 pounds by WIN Magazine and was ranked 10th-best recruit in the country, regardless of weight class, on Intermat.
Fehnel, a senior, went 8-5 last season in tournament action and finished sixth at the east Stroudsburg Open.
Three other newcomers will push the two front runners as Dan Hawvermale, Kyle John, and Shawn Steets all join the Terp ranks along with veterans Keith Bernard and Ryan Brown.
Newcomers Brian Letters and Jake Fedechko will look to earn the starting spot in their first year on campus at 157. Letters finished third at the 2007 Pennsylvania State Championships and was the 2006 Powerade Champion. He was a four-time WPIAL place winner and finished high school career with 157 wins for Fox Chapel.
Fedechko was a 2005 FILA Cadet Freestyle All-American, two-time district champion and a regional champion in New Jersey.
Santoro also points to Clint Stout who is waiting for a shot at 157. He has been injury-laden but is healthy for the first time in a while and will push for the position.
The 157 class also welcomes freshman Matt MacLean and Navy transfer Ricky Tippett to the lineup.
The 165 pound weight class is another wide open position for the Terps this year. Mike McGill moved up a weight class after starting at 157 last year where he went 12-17 overall. Ryan Kennett and Bradley Nielson will also make their cases for the starting spot prior to the season. Kennett was a three-time prep state champion in high school while Nielson had a stellar career at Walkersville before coming to Maryland.
Sophomore Mike Letts returns to the spot where he captured the ACC title at 174 pounds last season. As a freshman, Letts led the team with 31 wins and went 17-3 in dual competition. He was the first true freshman to compete at the NCAA Championships for the Terps since Jason Shea wrestled at 133 pounds in 1990.
Letts went 2-2 at the NCAAs and will look to improve on his performance from last year, possibly gunning to be Maryland's first All-American since 1997.
Josh Haines returns to the Maryland starting line up from last year after he missed the first half of 2006-07 with a nagging injury. Haines finished 10-7 with an 8-3 record in dual meets. Rich DiPietro is the other wrestler listed at 184 pounds who provides depth at this weight class. He saw a lot of mat time last season filling in for the injured Haines.
Sophomore Hudson Taylor is another Terp looking for the coveted All-American status this season. He finished one point shy last year as he lost 4-3 in a match that would have guaranteed him a spot among the top eight finishers at 197 pounds. Taylor ranked fourth in the nation in 2006-07 with 18 pins and went a team-best 18-3 in duals while going 29-9 overall.
Bryan Reiss and Patrick Gilmore, who moved up from 197, will battle for the starting position at heavyweight. Both did not see time on the mat in dual competition last year. Reiss finished second at the Wilkes Open in his only action of the season in 2006-07 as he went 3-1. Gilmore went 9-8 in tournaments with a pair of falls last year and finished fourth at the West Virginia Open.
Tommy Sitar aslo joins the heavyweight ranks as a freshman and will also look for some time on the mat this season.
Santoro has put together one of the toughest schedules in recent memory for the Terps in 2007-08. Maryland will face seven teams that finished last season in the final USA Today/NWCA/Intermat Coaches Poll. The Terps open up at the always challenging Avalon Duals on November 3 before traveling to Penn State a week later. Maryland will face Edinboro who finished last year with a ranking, as did Penn State.
After the Body Bar Systems Invitational tournament at Cornell on November 17, Maryland will wrestle Michigan, Central Michigan, and Appalachian State. Both the Wolverines and CMU were top 15 teams in 2006-07. The Terps open their home schedule on December 2 against Lehigh, which finished in the top 25 as well, before hosting Rider and Rutgers on the 8th. The nation's most prestigious tournament will once again welcome Maryland as the Southern Scuffle will take place on December 29-30. The Terps will face nationally-ranked Navy on January 10 before opening their ACC schedule on January 13 at North Carolina. The highlight of the year will come on March 8 when the 2008 ACC Championship makes its way to Comcast Center. It is the first time that the tournament will be held in the facility.
The NCAA Championship begins on March 20 in St. Louis at the Scottrade Center.