While much of the sports world turns its attention to the basketball court this week, a pair of Wichita-area athletes will take to the wrestling mat with title aspirations of their own when the NCAA championships begin Thursday in Oklahoma City.
Goddard product Tyler Caldwell and Heights graduate Kendric Maple, both seniors, are competing in the final event of their college careers.
Caldwell, who won four Kansas high school titles, is the No. 2 seed at 165 pounds for Oklahoma State. He’s a three-time All-American and gets one last shot at the elusive top tier of the podium.
To get there, Caldwell (24-3) will likely have to beat an athlete who many consider to be the top wrestler of any weight class. Penn State senior David Taylor is 29-0 and is the favorite to win the NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler Award. Taylor has been in the title match three times, winning as a sophomore.
Caldwell and Taylor have already matched up twice this season, with Taylor accounting for two of Caldwell’s three losses. While Taylor dominated the first match 9-1, Caldwell closed the gap with a 5-2 loss on Feb. 16 in front of Taylor’s home fans in State College, Pa.
Caldwell has had his share of highly-anticipated matches on college wrestling’s biggest stage. As a sophomore wrestling for Oklahoma, Caldwell reached the national championship match before losing 11-3 to Nebraska’s Jordan Burroughs. Burroughs went on to win gold medals in the 2012 Olympics and three world championships. During his junior season, Caldwell lost 2-0 in the semifinals to Cornell’s Kyle Dake, who went on to beat Taylor by a point in the title match. Dake won four NCAA titles.
If Caldwell can pull off the upset, he will have done it in an unconventional way. He wrestled his first two seasons at Oklahoma before transferring to Oklahoma State, where he has competed for the past two seasons.
Maple on the other hand is trying to finish his senior season the same way he did as a junior. He went 31-0 last season to claim the 141-pound title. But a bump up to 149 pounds this season has come with a couple of growing pains. He still has a 22-4 record and enters the NCAAs as the No. 4 seed. Of the four opponents to beat Maple this season, none of them won by more than two points, and Maple also has wins against two of them.
Maple is a two-time All-American and won a hard-fought 6-3 decision against Oklahoma State’s Josh Kindig in the Big 12 title match earlier this month. Maple has won two of three matches against Kindig this season.
Missouri’s Drake Houdashelt is the favorite at 141. In their one match, Houdashelt beat Maple 3-2. If they each win their first three NCAA matches they’ll be on collision course to meet in the semifinals.