Kendric Maple didn't want to do it. He simply had to.
After three-straight dual losses, the 141-pound Oklahoma wrestler told his teammates what they needed to hear — some tough love from the Sooners' team captain.
Said OU head coach Mark Cody: “Kendric's been calling his teammates out, as far as the guys who aren't doing well. It's something when your coach calls you out. It's another when your team captain does it. He tactfully let them know to step up. Sometimes, that means a little bit more to guys.”
The No. 25 Sooners' recent transgressions — dual losses to Lehigh, Virginia Tech and Missouri — aren't because of Maple's performance. He's been phenomenal this season, maintaining a perfect record (21-0).
“I think with teams, there obviously has to be leaders,” Maple said. “Ideally, I'd rather lead by example and not say anything. But there comes a time when guys aren't performing where they need to be. And I just can't stand losing. It eats at me every time we do, so that just kinds of builds up.”
The Sooners (6-7, 2-1) will need as much leadership as they can handle on Sunday, as they wrestle in Corvallis, Ore. in the National Duals Oregon State Regional — arguably the toughest bracket in the nation. To advance to the NWCA Mat Mayhem final round in Minneapolis, OU will have to go through No. 7 Virginia Tech, No. 9 Oregon State and No. 19 Michigan. The Sooners' first match is Sunday against Virginia Tech.
“Anytime I see that we're going up against the best of the best, that's when you get a chance to prove yourself,” Maple said. “It will be a good steppingstone.”
Cody reiterated that sentiment. If the Sooners are to gain momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament come March, this is the time to start. But it won't be easy, especially with OU's youth. They start five freshmen.
“For some reason, the young guys are having their doubts,” Cody said. “I think with many of those guys, they don't think at this point in their career that they're supposed to be winning every match. And really, they are capable of winning. They work hard, they practice hard, but I think they're still finding their way.
“I told them after practice tonight; it would not surprise me if we won this region. We're capable of doing that. That's if everybody is wrestling to their potential. But that hasn't happened yet.”