NORMAN — After going 31-0 and winning a national title at 141 pounds as a junior, Oklahoma's Kendric Maple entered his senior season widely considered one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the country.
But Maple proved to be quite beatable, stunningly dropping two of his first six matches this season after bumping up to 149 pounds.
The low point came when his 34-match win streak was snapped with a 5-3 overtime loss to Bloomsburg's Bryce Busler in the championship finals at the Brockport/Oklahoma Invitational in late November.
“My confidence coming into the season wasn't where it should have been for some reason,” Maple said. “Going up a weight, or whatever the issue was I don't know, but I didn't have the confidence I should've had after last year. After that first loss it just went way down.”
Now, midway through the season, Maple appears to have regained his edge.
It was his second loss, 4-3 to OSU's Josh Kindig in the Sooners' 16-15 dual win over their Bedlam rival, that helped Maple once again find the confidence he used to reach the top of the podium last March.
“After the Bedlam loss, that was the first time I really got mad,” Maple said. “I got that chip back on my shoulder.”
Maple has won seven straight matches since, pushing his record to 13-2 on the season. He's climbed back to No. 3 in the rankings after defeating two top 10 opponents on his way to winning the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational last month.
“By the time Vegas rolled around I was back to that competitive nature and my confidence was way back up,” Maple said. “I'm feeling a lot better and gradually getting better. I think by the end of the season I should be even better than I was last year.”
The early season struggles also required OU assistant coach Michael Lightner, who works closely with Maple, to make some adjustments.
“He was kind of a guy we weren't getting after or talking to as much at the beginning of the year,” Lightner said. “But as coaches we learned that maybe he needs it. He likes to be motivated and pumped up before a match or a practice, so we've focused on giving him a little bit more of that. Now we just need to get him back to the top of the podium.”
Lightner says Maple has always possessed the physical ability to dominate the competition at 149 pounds, but it's his mental approach that will ultimately determine how successful he'll be.
“When he's motivated, ready to go, and creating the action on the mat, he's almost always going to come out on top,” said Lightner, who won a national title of his own as a Sooner at 141 pounds in 2001. “But if he stands around and allows guys to stay in the match, like he did in some of those matches early on, then he's going to be in a dogfight.
“The good thing is he's let that second loss motivate him and you see it every day. He realized he had to get hungry again and get motivated to go win another title. He's getting back to his old form now, because he's not just winning, he's dominating guys.”
No. 9 Northern Iowa at No. 4 Oklahoma
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: McCasland Field House, Norman
TV: FSOK (Cox 37)/FCS (Cox 271)
Three things to know
*Last season, unranked Northern Iowa pulled off an 18-15 upset over No. 13 OU in Cedar Falls. Both teams are unbeaten this season with UNI 5-0 and OU 7-0. OU holds a 7-6 lead in the all-time series.
*Northern Iowa's top-ranked Joe Colon has a career record of 16-0 in dual competition. He'll put his undefeated streak on the line against OU's eighth-ranked Cody Brewer at 133 pounds.
*After going 2-0 last week the Sooners' Justin DeAngelis (157 pounds) was named Big 12 Wrestler of the Week. The Jenks native is the third Sooner to receive the honor this season, joining Andrew Howe and Travis Rutt.
125: No. 7 Dylan Peters, Fr. (UNI) vs. No. 5 Jarrod Patterson, Sr. (OU)
133: No. 1 Joe Colon, Sr. (UNI) vs. No. 8 Cody Brewer, So. (OU)
141: No. 15 Joey Lazor, Sr. (UNI) vs. No. 10 Nick Lester, Sr. (OU)
149: Tyler Patten, Fr. (UNI) vs. No. 3 Kendric Maple, Sr. (OU)
157: Jarrett Jensen, So. (UNI) vs. No. 19 Justin DeAngelis, Jr. (OU)
165: No. 11 Cooper Moore, Fr. (UNI) vs. Clark Glass, Fr. (OU)
174: No. 16 Cody Caldwell, So. (UNI) vs. No. 1 Andrew Howe, Sr. (OU)
184: No. 5 Ryan Loder, Sr. (UNI) vs. Danny Chaid, Fr. (OU)
197: Basil Minto, Jr. (UNI) vs. No. 3 Travis Rutt, Sr. (OU)
285: Blaize Cabell, So. (UNI) vs. No. 18 Ross Larson, Fr. (OU)
Note: Rankings are from InterMat Wrestling.