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Once-proud Terps wrestlers adjusting to tough Big Ten

The loss vexed Shyheim Brown. The Maryland wrestler couldn't stop dwelling on it even though the defeat came against a three-time national champion.

For the first time in his life, Brown had been pinned.

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"I was stuck on it, but one of our coaches cleared my head," Brown said. "He told me to focus on the positives of that match. He said most of (Ohio State's) Logan Stieber's falls have come in the first period — and I'd stayed with him until the end of the second.

"I felt better after that," said Brown, a 141-pound sophomore.

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Such is life in Big Ten wrestling. In its first year in the conference, Maryland (0-6, 5-12 overall) has struggled, and it won't get easier as the Terps entertain No. 1 Iowa Friday night and No. 3 Minnesota on Sunday.

"Record-wise, this isn't the way we'd painted it," coach Kerry McCoy said. "I thought our guys would respond better, and I think they are starting to."

It's no surprise that Maryland has had a tough time transitioning to the country's best wrestling conference. But they've had to learn that the hard way.

"It's like a parent telling a child not to touch the stove, but he does it anyway, gets burned and says, 'I should have listened,'" McCoy said. "Well, we talked for a year and a half about how tough the Big Ten was — and now that we're 0-6 these guys realize that, oh, it's really tough. They had to get burned first, but now they know what they're up against and it's time to punch back."

It's a new world for the once-proud Terps, who left the Atlantic Coast Conference having won four of the last seven conference tournaments and 24 in all. Only eight times in 71 years of dual meet competition has Maryland posted a losing season. But the schedule was never so demanding. Seven defeats were to Top 20 teams, including Ohio State (4), Penn State (5) and Nebraska (10). And look what's ahead.

Nine of Iowa's 10 wrestlers rank in the Top 10 nationally. The Terps have two ranked wrestlers — heavyweight Spencer Myers (13) and 133-pound Geoff Alexander (20).

"It's rough to not win, but not once have I seen any of our guys stop," said Alexander, a junior from Pittsburgh who is 2-4 in the Big Ten and 12-6 overall. "We've talked about this three-phase ordeal that we're going through. First, we take the beatings. Then we figure out how to sharpen our tools. Finally, we regroup and put it all into action in the tournaments at the end of the year."

At least, that's the plan.

"Oh-and-six doesn't look very pretty, but it's a growth process," said Myers, a 275-pound redshirt senior from Selinsgrove, Pa. "Each week we learn something, win or lose."

Only Myers, All-ACC last year, has a winning record (2-1) in Big Ten competition. He missed half of the season, having played defensive end in football. But he knows the score.

"In a way, it's us-versus-them," Myers said. "We're like those antelopes you see in Africa, trying to survive the lions. After they've tried once or twice, they figure out their game plan."

The Terps' troubles haven't dampened expectations.

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"Am I disappointed? Of course," said McCoy, in his seventh year as coach. "We haven't beaten those we expected to — George Mason, Duke and Hofstra. We've had injuries but the bottom line is, we haven't gotten it done.

"I am proud of the fact that these guys haven't given up. At this point, some guys would say 'Screw it, why even show up?'"

McCoy singled out Josh Snook, a 174-pound wrestler from Bear, Del., who was hobbling with a bad hip prior to the Ohio State match. When Snook's turn came, with the Terps trailing, 24-3, the coach told another wrestler to step up.

"No," Snook said. "I want to wrestle."

"Josh, you can barely stand," McCoy said.

"I'm going to get this one for us," Snook said.

The coach acquiesced.

"He had this look in his eye, and he said it with such conviction, that I let him go," McCoy said.

He won, 7-0.

"Snooks pulled that one out of his heart," teammate Alfred Bannister said.

The home crowd of 1,254 approved. Record aside, attendance is up — more than 8,200 to date. The Penn State match alone drew nearly 2,800, about 300 fewer than last year's season total.

Though Maryland is braced for a double drubbing this weekend — "When you get beat at home, at least you get to sleep in your own bed at night," the coach said — it is pinning its hopes on the postseason.

"Our goal is to finish in the top six of the Big Ten Tournament," McCoy said. "There, you can go on a roll with help from other teams and wrestle-backs."

Shyheim Brown, of Harrisburg, Pa., can't wait. He's itching for another crack at the celebrated Stieber.

"I definitely want to go against him again," Brown said. "This time, I'd like to last the whole match."

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