Terps' Asper enters NCAA wrestling tournament with unfinished business

Heading into the 165-pound championship match at the Atlantic Coast Conference wrestling championships March 3, the pressure was on.

Terps redshirt junior Josh Asper (Hereford) was putting his 24-0 season record on the line in what was a back-and-forth match against Virginia Tech's Pete Yates.

Asper had never lost to Yates, but he did on this night, falling, 6-4, in sudden victory.

"It's a disappointment not to win at the ACC tournament," Asper said. "That was a goal of mine. ... I was kind of nervous going in. After losing, I kind of just want to go out there and compete at the NCAAs."

He'll get his chance Thursday through Saturday in St. Louis. Asper, one of seven wrestlers from the ACC champion Terps to qualify for the Division I national championships, is seeded seventh despite spending most of the year as the second-rated wrestler at 165. He'll face Buffalo's Mark Lewandowski in the bracket's pigtail match. Should he win, Asper will meet Nicholas Sulzer of Virginia.

"I don't have the undefeated record I can lean to, defend or anything," Asper said. "I can just get out there like everyone else and compete, do my best. … The key for me is to focus on one match at a time. I think when I consider myself like any other wrestler, it calms me down and makes me feel like going out there and competing and having fun, helps me forget about all those outside pressures."

It's a mindset that Kerry McCoy, three-time ACC champion in four years as Terps coach, said makes Asper an elite wrestler.

"He just means so much to the program for so many reasons," McCoy said. "He's one of the best wrestlers to come out of Maryland in a long time. ... I think the one thing about Josh is that he's not a saint, he's not an angel, he's not perfect. … He can get better, and he wants to get better, and that's the most exciting thing with a kid like Josh."

"A lot of the time they think that 'oh, I got it, I've got it figured out,' and you can't tell them anything — but not Josh. He's so coachable, and it makes it fun to work with him."

Two other Terps are seeded: Redshirt sophomore Christian Boley is fourth at 197 and will open with Binghamton's Cody Reed, and sophomore Spencer Myers is eighth at 285 and will face The Citadel's Andrew Delaney in the first round.

Maryland's other representatives are sophomore Shane Gentry at 125, freshman Geoffrey Alexander at 133, senior Kyle John at 157 and sophomore Jimmy Sheptock at 174.

"I'm just going to take each match one at a time," said John, who won the ACC championship match. "I just have to focus on going out there, outworking the other guy and hope that that pays off. … All I've got to do is go out there and wrestle like I know how to wrestle and I think that I can succeed."

Sheptock, who wrestled behind two All-Americans as a freshman and was slowed by injury as a sophomore, has emerged as a redshirt sophomore, going 24-4, earning the No. 11 ranking and winning the ACC title match.

He's focused on keeping the roll going.

"Staying after practice and just working on the small things, fine-tuning is what needs to be done," Sheptock said. "We've had our game faces on so far, and so [we have to] just continue that."

McCoy credits togetherness for the team's success.

"Everybody is just like a family," McCoy said. "You get in an argument with your brother and sister and you get a little bit upset, but for the most part everybody kept the basic idea that this is a team and we've got goals that we're trying to accomplish.

"The work is done — all year we've putting money in the bank, and now it's time to cash out."



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