(University of Maryland…)
At the NCAA wrestling championships last spring, Maryland's Josh Asper was seconds away from becoming an All-American.
The redshirt freshman was clinging to a 3-2 lead in a consolation quarterfinal match with Old Dominion's Chris Brown when he was taken down just as time expired.
Asper's camp believed the takedown was after the final buzzer. After a lengthy discussion, the officials awarded Brown two points for the takedown, a controversial decision that sent Asper home with nothing but experience.
With another season under his belt and a chip on his shoulder, Asper, who won four state titles at Hereford, enters this week's national championships in Philadelphia on a 14-match winning streak that carried him to an ACC title in the 165-pound weight class. His 31-2 record earned him the fourth seed, putting him in a position to finish what he started last year.
"I thought I had it," said Asper, who will take on Boise State's Kurt Swartz on Thursday morning. "It's done nothing but motivate me for this year. Coach has used it all year."
Said Maryland coach Kerry McCoy: "Earlier in the year, I told him I'm not going to let him forget that match. Not as a negative, but to help him build on it. If I ever see him slacking, I bring that match up as a reminder that he needs to put everything in. Fortunately, I didn't have to that often because he stayed focused the entire year. He had one bad weekend, but other than that he's been on fire."
Asper, the highest-ranked Terrapin to qualify for the tournament, picked up his only two losses this season at the prestigious Midlands Championships in December, falling to American's Patrick Graham and No. 3-ranked Tyler Caldwell of Oklahoma.
Caldwell is just one highly ranked opponent Asper could face later in the bracket. Top-seeded Jordan Burroughs of Nebraska won the national championship at 157 pounds in 2009, and after losing last season to a knee injury, is now undefeated at 165 pounds. Wisconsin's John Howe is the defending champion, and despite being slowed by a hamstring injury, earned the second seed.
With all the big names looming, McCoy is trying to keep Asper focused on his first match.
"Human nature is to always look ahead a little bit, but we stress to our guys to focus on the next opponent," McCoy said. "He's going in as the fourth seed. We know who's on the other side of the bracket, but they might get upset. All we know is that we have our first-round match set up. Our expectation is to go out, win the first match and go from there."
Asper said that he likes his draw and has a good chance of at least making it to the semifinals, where a potential matchup with Burroughs looms.
"Anything can happen at the NCAAs," he said. "I've got a shot at the national title. That's my goal this year."
Though Asper is quiet, McCoy has seen him grow into a leader this season, using his work ethic to earn the respect of his teammates. McCoy believes that as long as he keeps "emptying the tank" and giving his all in practice, Asper can accomplish great things — both this week and beyond.
"He's in a position right now where he's going to challenge for a national championship as a sophomore, and he can keep building from there," McCoy said. "Our expectation for him is to be one of the best wrestlers to ever put on a Maryland singlet."
Maryland's NCAA participants NameRankingWeight classFirst matchJosh AsperNo. 4165 poundsKurt Swartz (Boise State)Kyle JohnNo. 15157 poundsSteve Fittery (American)Jon KohlerNo. 14141 poundsZack Kemmerer (Penn)Mike LettsNo. 10174 poundsScott Giffin (Penn)Spencer MyersUnrankedHeavyweightRicky Alcala (Indiana)Corey PeltierUnranked184 poundsGrant Gambrall (Iowa)