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Top-ranked Kendric Maple of Oklahoma ready to make run at NCAA title

Oklahoma’s Kendric Maple earned a win at the NWCA All-Star Classic earlier this season. Tony Rotundo photo.

Kendric Maple discovered early on that basketball wasn’t the sport for him.

“I went out on the court and started tackling everybody,” he said.

Shortly after that, the 6-year-old brought a flyer home from school.

He was going to try wrestling.

Maple’s decision has certainly paid off. Now a junior for the Oklahoma Sooners, Maple is the favorite to win the 141-pound NCAA wrestling title next month in Des Moines, Iowa.

The explosive, 5-foot-10 Maple is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 nationally this season after placing fourth in the 2012 NCAAs.

“Kendric does everything right,” Oklahoma coach Mark Cody said. “He has bought in 100 percent to what we’re trying to do here. He’s a great athlete and he works very hard. What sets him apart is he tries to improve technically every day. He’s fascinated by the technical side of the sport.”

Maple grew up in Wichita, Kan., and won two Kansas state titles in high school. He was recruited to Oklahoma by former Sooners coach Jack Spates.

“I kind of went under the radar coming out of high school,” Maple said. “I wrestled at High School Nationals and Coach Spates saw me there. He called me and brought me in on a visit. Oklahoma is a great place and the guys on the team are awesome. It’s been a great fit for me.”

Maple qualified for the 2010 NCAA tournament as a true freshman at 133 and went 2-2. He redshirted during the 2010-11 season.

Spates retired following that season and Cody took over as his new head coach.

“We have a wonderful coaching staff,” Maple said. “Coach Cody has a great system and we’ve all bought in. Everything you hear about Coach Cody, it’s true. You never hear anything bad about him. He has a lot of wisdom about wrestling and about life. He has great guidelines and a plan for his athletes to follow.”

Cody retained past NCAA champion Michael Lightner as an assistant coach and also brought in past All-American Jared Frayer as an assistant coach.

“Lightner and Frayer are great coaches,” Maple said. “Coach Lightner, I work with him the most. We have a very close relationship. He’s a great guy and I wrestle with him a lot. Frayer has done a lot for us. He was on the Olympic Team, and we had two Olympians training in our room with Frayer and Sam Hazewinkel. That raises the competition level in the room. It’s a great environment to train in.”

Maple has thrived in that environment. He won the Big 12 title in 2012 and entered the NCAA tournament in St. Louis as the No. 2 seed at 141. He rolled to wins in his first three matches, prevailing by fall and two major decisions.

He then met past NCAA runner-up and No. 3 seed Montell Marion of Iowa in the semifinals. Marion earned a 3-1 win in overtime. Maple bounced back to pin No. 4 seed Michael Mangrum of Oregon State before falling to past NCAA runner-up Boris Novachkov of Cal Poly in overtime in the third-place match.

“Last year was a building experience for me,” Maple said. “It was definitely not what I wanted. It pointed out some weaknesses I had. Guys were trying to slow me down. I’ve been working on wrestling my match where I am always attacking. I need to make sure I am opening up.”

Cody said Maple is determined to reach the top step of the NCAA podium this season.

“Kendric only took a week off after the NCAAs, and the only reason he took any time off was because we told him to,” Cody said with a laugh. “He wanted to get right back to work. That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s always looking to improve.”

Cody said Maple “exemplifies what we are looking for” in a student-athlete.

“Kendric’s just a great person,” Cody said. “He’s a kind, considerate person off the mat. He represents our school and program in a very positive way. He’s very disciplined, on and off the mat. He’s also very competitive. When he walks on the mat, he wants to destroy people.”

Maple also is considered a top potential prospect in freestyle. He won a FILA Junior Nationals freestyle title in 2011.

“He’s very good at scoring on his feet,” Cody said. “He stays in good position and he’s very good defensively. There is no doubt in my mind that he would be successful in freestyle.”

For now, Maple is taking aim at capturing his first NCAA title.

“I need to wrestle my match and not underestimate anyone I face,” he said. “I need to make sure my conditioning is where it needs to be. I am working on staying in my stance. All three matches I lost last year, I gave up points when I came out of my stance for a split second. I need to stay disciplined with that.”

Cody likes Maple’s chances to strike gold in Des Moines.

“Kendric has so many weapons because of how he’s developed,” Cody said. “He knows there is a sense of urgency to score and continue to score. He has to take control of the match for the entire match. If he does that, he’s going to be successful.”
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