By: Juan Herrera
Maryland wrestlers Ryan Diehl, Alfred Bannister, Youssif Hemida and Billy Rappo earned their bids to this year’s NCAA Wrestling Championships in St. Louis, Missouri, after putting on strong performances at the 2017 Big Ten Championships.
Redshirt sophomore Bannister placed sixth at the 149-pound weight class after he forfeited his match for fifth place against Rutgers’ Ken Theobold. Bannister knocked off Theobold in his first match of the tournament, but went on to lose to Penn State’s Zain Retherford, the No. 1 ranked 149-pounder and eventual Big Ten champion at that weight class.
Bannister (22-5) is the No.13 seed at the NCAA Championships. The redshirt sophomore will be facing off against NC State’s Sam Speno in his first match.
“Going into this, it’s all about winning, no matter how you do it,” Bannister said. “One point, overtime, it doesn’t matter who it’s against, just get the W and become a national champ.”
Heavyweight sophomore Hemida finished seventh in his weight class at the Big Ten Championships after he defeated Northwestern University’s Conan Jennings. Hemida (20-11) picked up three wins and two losses at the Big Ten Championships.
The sophomore heavyweight is unseeded at the NCAA Championships and will face off against North Dakota State University’s Benjamin Tynan. The two wrestlers faced off earlier this season in December, where Tynan picked up a 7-3 win.
“This is the biggest tournament I’ve ever wrestled in up to this point in my life, so I’m excited to go out there and see what I’m capable of,” Hemida said. “If I go out there and let if fly, good things can happen.”
Redshirt senior Rappo (16-13) earned his tournament bid in dramatic fashion after knocking off Wisconsin’s Eli Stickley 7-5 in sudden death. The redshirt senior is unseeded in the NCAA Championships and he will be squaring off against Oregon State’s Joseph Palmer in his first match.
The Terps’ most surprising qualifier, Diehl, started off the Big Ten Championships with a major decision loss to Nebraska’s Colton McCrystal, but managed to turn his momentum around to place fifth at 141-pounds. In the process of qualifying, Diehl defeated three wrestlers ranked within the top-20, including No. 11 Tommy Thorn of Minnesota.
“I got fifth at Big Tens and I wasn’t supposed to, but it happened and we’re looking into next week and looking to get on the podium.” Diehl said. “It’s the same outlook, the same wrestling and the same mindset.”
Diehl (9-5) is unseeded in the NCAA Championships and will be taking on Penn State’s Jimmy Gulibon. Diehl lost to Gulibon, 9-4 in early February, but he also pinned the Penn State wrestler in under a minute at the Big Ten Championships.
This is the first time any of these wrestlers for Maryland are competing at the NCAA Championships. Head coach Kerry McCoy said he has continued to tell his wrestlers the same thing heading into the tournament.
“It doesn’t have to be pretty, winning 1-0 or winning in overtime, winning is winning,” McCoy said. “That’s the goal at this point. If you get your hand raised five times you’re a national champ and that’s what we want to focus on.”
The 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships kicks off in St. Louis, Missouri, on March 16 and concludes March 18.