Welcome back to Tiger Style Explored, a weekly Mizzou Wrestling interview series that will take you inside the program in the coming months from the regular season to the NCAA Championships and beyond.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start by reviewing the Stanford dual. What were your thoughts on the meet, and some of your key takeaways?
Kendric Maple: The Stanford meet, it was awesome. It was our first shutout, so (head coach Brian) Smith was really happy about that. But one thing Smith does really well is that there’s always something we can grow from, we’re not satisfied with it. I thought our guys wrestled well, you can tell we are in shape. We attacked a lot. We’ve been working in the room with our individuals and stuff, guys are starting to test it out more. And so in that dual, we saw a lot of the things we were working on come to fruition.
You’ve got a big weekend coming up after over a week off due to the cancelation of the UNI Open. How do you think the cancelation has affected the team, and would you have preferred to have that weekend meet or keep the week off to rest and get healthy?
KM: We’re gonna always adapt, and I think there’s pros and cons to both. Obviously, we would have loved to compete, see some more D1 competition, get some guys some more wins in their win column. But we use it as training. I think it was a great week for recovery. And then our room, that’s one thing we pride ourselves in is we think we have one of the best rooms in the country just depth-wise with guys who can push our guys, and so they’re getting just as much if not more competition in the room. So we were able to do some simulated matches and get some guys some of those same feels.
You’ve had a couple of quality wins from guys who aren’t regular starters this season. And Kade Moore wasn’t a regular in the lineup to begin the year, but then just started to win and win on the mat when he got the opportunity. What led to him getting that opportunity, and what are your thoughts on his performance so far?
KM: Buy-in would be the biggest thing. We tell people all the time, Tiger Style is a culture, and we really do mean it. And when you do buy in, you start to see those fruits of that labor. For Kade, he’s always had that talent. You watch him wrestle, you know, I can’t teach him what he’s doing, he’s doing incredible stuff. And so, for him, it was just about buying into the little things, the day-to-day, the conditioning, the eating right, all that stuff.
As soon as he made up his mind to buy in, you could see his wrestling just went like this (gestures showing his wrestling took off), and he just needed that opportunity. He’s going up, he’s not scared of anybody. If you think back to him in high school, I remember when we recruited him, he took out the number one kid in the country like it was nothing. (We) go to talk to him and he’s just like, yeah, it was fun. And so he’s a goofball, he’s exciting to watch.
I remember Moore answering questions in the media room after the Wyoming dual, and he was very straight to the point with short answers. Is that just his personality, or does he open up when he gets to know someone a bit more?
KM: He definitely opens up, but he is Captain Mysterious. He has so many cool things, I found out new things about him by the week. There’s one time, we’re sitting there talking (and) he’s like, “Yeah, I’ve been doing a podcast with my dad and my brother.” I was like, “Really? That’s cool. I didn’t take you as a podcast guy.”
He was like, yeah, it’s been going on like 10 years. So I go and he’s on Spotify, you can go find it, but he’s legit been doing a podcast for the longest time. So he has so many little things outside of wrestling that make him just a unique and awesome dude.
Kade Moore has what could be one of his biggest matches of the season this weekend at Cornell with Vito Arujau, who has been hampered by injuries this year. Have you heard if Arujau will wrestle this weekend, and how do you prepare when he could be facing the top wrestler in his weight class or someone else completely different?
KM: For us, we try to have (the) philosophy it doesn’t matter who you wrestle, but we are going to plan for him and we are going to give him that feel. We hope he wrestles. I know he’s been banged up a little bit, but from everything we’re hearing it’s lining up that he is gonna wrestle, which we want. We want the test, we want to see where he’s actually at.
He took out the top-10 guy against Virginia Tech. We want to see him against who’s supposed to be the number one kid, I mean Vito’s amazing. He’s an amazing wrestler. We want to see where Kade (is), we know his potential is through the roof. We want to see where he’s at right now so we can make those adjustments. I mean, who knows what’s gonna happen, we have faith in him.
(Update: It has been reported that Vito Arujau will wrestle this weekend)
There were some big victories throughout the Stanford dual, but you started off with a bang as Noah Surtin beat top-5 Nico Provo. What did you see in that match, and what have you seen from Surtin overall this year?
KM: I’d say maturity. I think Noah has constantly been climbing throughout his career, and always falling just short. And I think this year, he’s sick of it. He’s ready to win those big matches. When it comes down to the wire, he’s performing in those big moments and he’s still loving wrestling. He’s keeping his composure throughout the match, honing in on a lot of stuff we’ve been working on, and you can really see it out there on the mat. If he gets taken down, if something bad happens, he’s staying locked in and laser-focused. So Noah is a dangerous man, and he likes everybody to know it, too. But he has the ability to beat anybody.
Having coached Noah Surtin for multiple seasons, how do you feel seeing him get his big breakthrough and being healthy as one of the top wrestlers in his class right now?
KM: It’s one of the coolest parts of coaching. because this sport is unforgiving. It’s relentless, it’s a grind, and there’s been countless times where you see a kid work that hard and do everything right inside and outside the room and then still fall up short. So when you start to see, they start to see more importantly, that all that work is paying off that’s when it gets really exciting. And I think Noah’s for sure seeing like, hey, I can do it this year. I believe in myself, all this stuff I went through had a purpose.
One of the other great moments from the meet was Zeke Seltzer bumping up to 141 and getting the win after struggling to begin the season at 133. Would you like to see him wrestle more at 141 after what you saw in that meet?
KM: I think at least as of right now, we’re fine in that’s where he wrestles best, and the health of the student-athlete is always going to be our number one priority. And man, he wrestles when he can eat. He loves food. You ask him, he loves food. So when he can eat, he’s a happy man and he wrestles better. When he doesn’t have to cut the weight and start cutting that food back as much, he really is explosive; he knows how to wrestle. He’s a beast. So I want to see him wrestle more this way and see how far he could go, whether he’s in the lineup or not.
Josh Edmond wasn’t in the lineup at Stanford and he’s been managing some injuries this year. Should Mizzou fans expect to see him this weekend?
KM: Josh has been battling a couple issues just injury-wise, so we’ve been nursing him back to health. He’s fired up, he’s ready to go. He’s been in the room. It’s day-to-day, but I think we’re gonna expect Josh to come out and be able to wrestle this weekend.
Edmond hasn’t had the start some were hoping for with a couple of close losses to quality wrestlers so far this year. Potentially facing multiple top-15 wrestlers in his class this weekend, how big of an opportunity is this for him? Is this a weekend where he can reset the narrative?
KM: Oh, yeah. Josh has been working really hard, he’s been making adjustments and getting better. He’s pushing through those walls, and he’s right up (against) the edge of one of his biggest walls, he just needs to push through it. I think that’s what this weekend really should be for.
I think he should show up, he’s got great competition, and for him to push through not just for ranking, seedings, all that stuff but mainly for him mentally just to know it’s here. Watch him for two seconds, you know the guy’s talented. Without a doubt, he’s a stud, but can he do that for seven minutes and do it every time he steps on the mat?
The last time out for Edmond against Virginia Tech, he lost a close 9-8 decision to Tom Crook and seemed to wrestle more defensive than usual as the match went on. Would you like to see him be a little more aggressive and offensive in his style?
KM: Oh, absolutely. That’s who he is. I mean, you can’t take a sports car to the track and not race it, right? So he’s got all the tools to score points nonstop. He’s got to be able to commit to that, and the hard part is guys wrestle him different. When you have that explosive offense that you can blink and you can be on your back, guys are going to wrestle you different, they start to slow you down.
They try to wear you down, they try to squeeze, they shut down where they’re not opening up as much, and Josh gets frustrated with that and it’s natural. We’ve talked to him tons of times about it. You can’t take it personal. It’s got to be one of those things where he’s like, I’m gonna keep shooting, keep shooting, keep shooting until you can’t deny me for full seven minutes. He’s been working towards that, but when he fully accomplishes that mindset, then the sky’s the limit.
The final weight class I want to talk about is 149. Going back to that Stanford match, Gioffre just dominated Jaden Abas, a top-10 wrestler at the time. What have you seen from Gioffre this year, and what are the things he needs to carry over from that win?
KM: Just keep attacking, and he knows it. He’s got to be able to wrestle. For him, why we’re seeing all this success isn’t because of what’s happened in this season, it’s all the work he put in the offseason. Logan was one of the guys who was in there every day in the summer, sometimes 2-3 times a day. And that’s why he made such huge jumps over the offseason, why we’re seeing some people (saying), who is this guy, where’d he come from?
Well, we’ve been seeing it all consistently throughout since he’s been here. He’s worked hard. And you know, all that work he’s put in, you’re starting to see it out on the mat. What we’d like to see is that he continues to have belief in himself. I don’t think he ever won a state title, he’s a kid who’s worked super hard and hasn’t had those huge wins, and I know he’s headed for it. So believing in himself is gonna be a big part of that.
You have three wrestlers at 149 that have gotten top-25 wins this year. Does having such a deep roster at 149 really push those guys to improve?
KM: Iron sharpens sharpens iron, especially (with) how well our guys handle it. You know, there’s not a lot of envy or anything in the room. We’re going to get better and we’re going to put the best out there, we’re going to support our teammates. With this sport you never know, there’s injuries all the time. So having that next guy up who’s ready to step in and be ready to go be an All-American, national champ, is huge. And so we do our best to keep everybody on the team, believing they’re gonna win a national title this year.
Moving back to this weekend, what are some of the things you want to see in order to consider it a successful couple of days?
KM: I want to see a mindset of domination. Last week our focus at Stanford was to score points. We can start going to where we’re not too worried about managing a match, making it a 5-2 win, 7-2, but we’re really trying to make it a tech fall match every time we step on the mat. I’ve seen matches be 1-1 going into third period (and) end up getting a tech fall, you never know when that floodgate’s going to open. So, having our guys with that aggression that they’re gonna go out and completely make their claim on the mat is what we want.
What are the coaching staff’s team goals for the rest of the year?
KM: The overall goal is that every wrestler wrestle (to) their best ability and learn to be the best of them, and if we take care of that, we’re gonna go win all the other goals we have. We have goals to win national titles (as) a team. Heck, I want all our guys to win and we have 10 national champs, so we’re gonna set our goals really high. Now is that realistic? Man, in my heart, absolutely. Every one of our guys, they can beat anyone in the country, and I think for us, it’s about the small individual day goals. Can I score this many points today, can I work this hard and get this time in my conditioning, and so if we focus on that, I think all the big goals are going to take care of themselves.
You’ve talked about setting the bar really high, and that seems to be one of the hallmarks of Tiger Style. What has your experience been like working with Coach Smith?
KM: It’s awesome. You learn a lot, and I would say for me, I have to constantly keep myself in just a humble mentality. Coach Smith, I’ve been with him five years now and I’m still learning stuff by the day. I know that won’t last forever, so I’ve got to soak up every bit I can while he’s here, and he does a great job with us for that. And then just following his footsteps. Every rule he sets for himself and for the team, he follows himself. He’s a guy who’s lifting, he’s taking the stairs every day, and so trying to just really mimic how he’s living his life. Hopefully I can have the same success he has had as a coach.
How were you initially hired at Mizzou, and what were your first thoughts when you were offered the job?
KM: I was working at Nebraska and had some amazing athletes and amazing coworkers there, and (was) having a lot of fun. This job came up and Tyrel Todd, he was here, we worked together at Purdue, he was the one who originally gave me the call. And then Dom Bradley had also come here, so two of my really, really good friends that called.
Tiger Style was always something that I didn’t hear a lot about, but they would be the guys winning, pinning people at nationals that they weren’t supposed to, they always placed in the top-10. It’s always been a program I’ve been so curious about joining, learning more about. So when the opportunity came, it was best for my family, best for my career, and I haven’t looked back. It’s been amazing, and now I’m just excited to keep it rolling.
You briefly worked with Tyrel Todd at Purdue. What was it like working with him at Purdue, and what did you think when you learned you would get to work with him again?
KM: It was great. We had Tony Ersland as our coach, and me and Tony are great friends to this day. I mean, he was definitely an awesome leader for me too while I was there. And now that I’m with Ty, man, nothing’s changed, we’re just still goofing around. We both have little kids, they all hang out together. And so it really made the transition here a lot easier to where our families could, you know, my kids jumped right in, they love Columbia. As soon as we got here, my wife loves it, and so it definitely helped with the move.
Was going into coaching always the plan for you, and if not, how did you come to the profession?
KM: Honestly, I came into college thinking I was going to be a doctor or work somewhere in the medical field. Wrestling has always been something I was passionate about and loved. Michael Lightner, he’s one of my personal coaches, and Mark Cody, I got to watch what they got to do every day. And to be able to see the impact they had on me and see they just looked like they had fun every day. When I see a lot of people in their jobs and they’re complaining about going into it, it was a job I could see that I could wake up every day and be like, heck yeah, can’t wait to get in the office, and it has been. So it was a natural transition right out of college for me, and I think it’s been a true blessing for me and my family.
Having won a national title in college and coached wrestlers who have won national championships, how does the feeling compare between winning it yourself and seeing someone you’ve coached win it?
KM: To be honest, winning a national title was awesome. It was amazing. But just like anything else, when you have goals, there’s always the ups and the downs. So, winning a national title was awesome, but it still kicks me every day with the fact that I lost those other ones. I wanted to be a four-time national champion. So there were a lot of downs with those ups, and you always wonder how things could have been.
But with coaching a national champ, it’s one of the coolest experiences because it’s so much bigger than yourself. You get to see the progression they had to get to that point. And man, it’s such a lasting feeling. Those memories are more vivid than when I was competing. Maybe just because I’m older now.
What’s the most rewarding part of coaching for you?
KM: Man, just the relationships. Winning titles, it’s always fun. But the journey along the way, the relationships to where you’re going to a guy’s wedding after he’s graduated and get to see him create a family and all this stuff, and they’re calling you back up, that’s the stuff that makes it all worth it. One of my athletes wrote me a letter with a picture on it after they had won a big tournament and dang near brought me to tears. And I realized right then that this is what I was meant to do, this is what I enjoy the most. And I would say, that’s definitely the most important.
While you’ve been coaching, you have also continued to wrestle professionally, winning multiple U.S. Freestyle Opens. The one I want to talk about, though, was when you won it in 2022 after making a deal with Keegan O’Toole that you would return to wrestling after four years away. How did that come together, and do you plan on continuing to wrestle professionally after your success?
KM: Heck no. Double retired. So the way it came about was, I think it was Dom put the little idea in Keegan’s ear. And we were in the room, it was a fun day, we’re all dancing around having fun. He proposed the bet to me and I said no, and then I’m pretty sure he got all the guys around him to start saying the same thing. It was like the power of the chant, you can’t (stop) the power of the chant.
And so for me, it was like, you know what, I know I can wrestle and if he wins a world title, it’s worth it. But as soon as I shook his hand, it was like, crap, I’m definitely gonna have to wrestle, this dude’s definitely winning. So as soon as he won it, too, the first thing he does is he comes off, he’s coming over after he got his hand raised and he says, ‘You ready to lace them up?’ And I was like, ohhh, because I’d completely forgot. That was a fun time.
Now that you’re double retired, do you still get the opportunity to get on the mat and wrestle some of the guys every once in a while? Or are you fully retired?
KM: As far as competition I’m fully retired, but I still wrestle pretty much every day. I was getting worn out the other day, I think I wrestled like two or three times that day, and he (Coach Smith) was like, you know, you can get them to wrestle their partners, too. You don’t have to hurt your back. I was like, oh, I’ve got to take a little bit more of that. So, no, I still wrestle all the time. I’ve got a workout tomorrow at 9:30 with somebody, so still keeping the body healthy and strong.
Is there anyone on the team you absolutely dread to wrestle?
KM: There’s plenty of those. You look at our room, we have so many different styles. That’s one thing I love is you’re gonna see anything and everything in our room. Keegan’s tremendous, and to fool around with him it’s like a Labrador, you’re just learning the whole time. And then a guy like Brock Mauller, when he uses his hands, I don’t want to be under them at all. But it’s fun wrestling everybody. To try wrestling Peyton Mocco, I don’t know how you can, he’s doing flips and cartwheels every two seconds. So that’s one of those things, you’ve got to watch out because you never know what he’s gonna do.
With your long road trip coming up, between wrestling and coaching in the Big 12 do you have a favorite place to travel to in the conference?
KM: I think personally, just because it’s an old rivalry is Oklahoma State. When I was at OU and it was a rivalry, their fans are passionate. I’ve heard a lot of words being said, but it’s a fun place to wrestle. So anytime I can go there and try to hush up the crowd as much as I can, they’re all good people, but it can get wild. So it’s always fun there.
Speaking of that rivalry, what are your thoughts on OU joining the SEC? Are you excited to see Mizzou and OU start to play each other again in some other sports besides wrestling?
KM: My wife’s still an OU football fan, I still am too a little bit. I’ve got to represent Mizzou now too, but it’s gonna be interesting. That move obviously is huge because it’s the best power conference for football, and I think it’ll be interesting to see how they do. I like the new coach and everything, so we still follow it from afar now. And then hopefully we get to wrestle them and do the SEC championship, we’ll get a trophy made and everything.
That’s a pretty good idea.
KM: It’s Smith’s idea, I can’t take that one.
What would you name it? Would you name it the SEC championship?
KM: Oh yeah, we’re going official with it.
Do you have to get the commissioner’s blessing for that?
KM: You know, Smith likes to ask for permission afterwards. I’m sure we’d have to go through some hoops, but hopefully we can make it happen.
Switching to the NCAA Championships now, when you saw they were being held in Kansas City this year did you circle the date on your calendar? What does it mean to have the championships in the state of Missouri?
KM: Man, it’s huge. I think for our fans, it’s a short drive, we’re trying to pack the place as much as we can. Just having that hometown feeling where you got people behind you. Our fans are amazing. I think also just for our guys, we have a lot of guys from Missouri here, we’ve got a lot of guys from Kansas City. And so for guys like Rocky and Zach to be able to compete in their hometown, trying to win a national title, it’s just a cool story. And I think those are guys who embrace it, it’s not something they fear. So I think it helps us because, you know, we get a good feel at home, and go do what we love to do.
Last week I talked to Noah Surtin and he said the athletics department leadership went around to each coach asking what they needed, and Coach Smith was the only one to say they didn’t need anything. Is that how you remember it, and if not what do you remember happening?
KM: That’s pretty much how it goes. Coach Smith, like I said, he’s a unique and special coach, and there’s a reason why he’s had success. A lot of people out there are always thinking they need this and this to win. For us, we just need each other and a wrestling mat. And if we don’t have a wrestling mat, we’ll go outside and wrestle on the grass. And so if we can keep that mindset, blue collar, just work hard and figure it out, those other things will come. Those other nice facilities, all those will come with us having success for doing it the right way and just working hard. Smith’s a big believer in that, he knows that people will come (up with) anything we need as long as we keep doing what we’re supposed to do.
As we wrap up, is there anything you want to say to Mizzou fans?
KM: Show up. We’ve got a special team. It’s not just coming out and watching paint dry, we’ve got some guys who are exciting up and down the lineup. Just come out and show us the support, and we’re gonna for sure put on a show for you.
And is there anything you would want people who maybe haven’t given wrestling a shot yet but are interested in trying it to know?
KM: Honestly, try it once. I think everybody who’s tried it once sees that there’s something special, anyone who’s ever really taken a chance to dive into what wrestling is. They see that it’s special people, some of the people that (would) give the shirt off their back always around the wrestling community. And then you start to see the storylines. I’ve seen the battles that guys have to go through and persevere through. If you take a chance to get to know one of these guys on the team, I promise you’ll be hooked for life.