By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Jefferson senior Ricker Maple has won enough matches in his wrestling career that he will finish his career with the second- or third-most victories in school history.
With two victories at the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League Tournanemt, Maple is 26-2 on the season and has run his career mark to 151-24 (.863).
“I know Kyle (Gilchrist) had 175 (wins),” Maple, the son of Kelly and Dave Kern and Warren Maple, said. “I didn’t think I’d get close to that. I had to keep working in the summer and the offseason. I never really had an offseason. I’m working in the spring and summer going to camps and stuff. I have a good partner in Joey Baitt to work with in practice.”
Despite all of the success, there’s still some business Maple needs to accomplish. In his first three seasons, Maple has missed the state tournament by one match.
“That makes you so hungry for the next year,” he said. “After my freshman year, I knew my sophomore year was going to be the year. I wanted it. I keep going because I can’t give up (on getting to state) after being so close.
“There’s more left I can accomplish.”
That unfinished business has, in its own way, helped Maple to reach his milestone in wins.
“Each year, I’ve done something more,” he said. “I’ve kept working hard at it.”
Maple knows just how fine the line between victory and defeat can be at the elite level.
“(Getting to state) is all about the big matches,” he said. “You have to step up. When you’re down there (at districts), one move costs or makes the match for you.
“You just have to get by one move or make one move. Down at that level, everyone’s equal. It’s just that one move that makes or breaks you. All of those other guys have worked just as hard as you have. You have to push yourself to make that one last move.”
Every move Maple makes is highly calculated.
“I have a couple different setups, but I’m always looking for knee picks and the high crotch,” Maple said. “From the top, I run arm bars and from the bottom, I regularly stand up. Everything I do when we’re neutral is based off making angles.
“I move the guy around, look for the open shot. I pull on their elbows and snap them down and that create angles. That’s pretty much all I’ve been taught by all my coaches. My offense is created by angles.”
Good competition and partners in practice has helped Maple.
“I would say a lot of the credit goes to (Joey Baitt, Jerry Scott, Troy Stitt, Rocky Tripodi and Blake Perry),” Maple said. “My coaches and even my family have pushed me. Without my friends and family to keep pushing me, I wouldn’t work as hard as I have.”
Avsec has been a good master for his student, Maple.
“I consider Coach Avsec like Yoda,” Maple said of the famed “Star Wars” sage. “He’s the all-knowing master of wrestling. He’s definitely a good guy and he knows what he’s talking about.”
The addition of Troy Smock as an assistant coach for the Falcons has been a blessing.
“I really like having him around,” Maple said. “He motivates us. He wrestles with us, well, he bangs us around sometimes. He always pushes us.
“He makes the atmosphere in the wrestling room different. He and his wife (Danielle) have done a lot for this team this year.”
In the offseason, a few men have helped Maple along the way.
“I was in seventh grade when Kyle was a senior and Iain (Gilchrist) coached me,” Maple said. “When I was in youth wrestling, and even when I was in junior high at states, he was in my corner coaching me. I always listen for him. He always gives me good advice. He pushes me and keeps me headed in the right direction.”
A rival high school coach, who happens to live not too far away from him, has also helped.
“I go to open tournaments with Scott Francis (who coaches at Kirtland and was formerly the head coach at Jefferson, where he still resides) and (his son, Kirtland star) Evan,” Maple said. “Me and Evan go everywhere. He’s my dual partner.
“(Scott’s) a great role model. He knows so much about wrestling. He’s always pushing me and Evan. Sometimes, we end up wrestling in his basement. He’s got mats down there.”
It hasn’t hurt Maple that he had the example of Kyle Gilchrist to follow.
“When we were at the old school, we were in the same wrestling room,” Maple said of the Columbia graduate. “I got to see how he worked, how he pushed the others, how he was a leader. I try to that, too.”
“Kyle wasn’t just a good athlete. He worked hard at school, too. Him going to college, I got to see, and from what I hear now, wrestling in college is making his life better.
“Now, I want to go and wrestle in college.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.