Ryan Smith has built a successful NCAA Division II wrestling program at Newman University since becoming the head wrestling coach in 2008. Since 2016, the Jets have had six All-Americans, highlighted by Noel Torres winning a national championship in 2018 at 184 pounds. Newman finished 12th at the 2018 NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships.
MatBoss caught up with Smith and talked to him about this season, his top wrestlers, recruiting and what makes Newman University a special place.
You are 3-2 in dual meets this season. What are your thoughts on the way the team is competing right now?
Smith: I think we're in a good place. We have some younger guys who are starting to figure it out. The older guys are doing their job.
Freshman Jace Fisher (157) placed at the Midwest Classic and went 3-0 at the Jewell Duals. What do you like about the way Jace is competing?
Smith: Jace is going to be that guy. He's just gritty. He's going to be very dangerous as he matures.
Kameron Frame, three-time NCAA qualifier, is one of your top wrestlers. What's it going to take for him to get on the podium at the NCAAs?
Smith: It's just going to be paying attention to his body. He's older. We have to protect him a little bit. But just staying the course, being disciplined and just staying free spirited. When he's happy, bouncing around, singing to the radio in the room, we know he's in a good place. An older guy like that, he's going to do his job day in day out. We just got to make sure he's keeping that confidence about him.
You had a two-week break from competition in January. Is that something you like? And what's the focus during those two weeks?
Smith: It's not really what we like, but it's how this year played out for us. It gives us a chance to relax a second, watch some film, work on what we need to work on and get ready to go as we kind of hit the grind part of our season.
In 2018, Noel Torres became the school's first NCAA championship when he won the 184-pound class. What was that moment like for you as a coach?
Smith: It was incredible. It had been a long time coming. We always had a lot of great guys go through our program. The way he was able to turn a career around was amazing. The guy had to bust his tail day in day out. He's still busting his tail. He's still wrestling. He's made an incredible name for himself and we're excited that Newman is a small piece of that. He's an honor to be around. He's a privilege to be around. Just an incredible human being.
You have been around Kansas wrestling for a long time. Do you see a Division I wrestling program ever coming to the state of Kansas?
Smith: I'm not going to say it couldn't happen I would think if it was going to happen it probably would have already happened. Obviously, being one of the two Division II programs around, it's kind of scary to think about it if that did happen. It would be great for the sport of wrestling but for selfish reasons I don't know if I'd want it.
How do you view recruiting? What type of kid do you look for when recruiting? Do you focus on Kansas or the Midwest?
Smith: We're going to hit as many Kansas kids as we can. We want these local kids competing in front of their hometowns and to be able to bring something special back to their hometown. So we're going to hit the Kansas kids but we're going to branch out a little bit. We've had kids from Arizona. We've had Texas kids, Pennsylvania kids. We try to hit them all … as many as we can. As far as the kids that we're looking for, we're not always looking for the state champs. We're looking for that guy that's still hungry who hasn't quite got to his ceiling. Those have sometimes been the perfect fit kids for Newman University. The kids that are going to do their job in the classroom and they're looking for a place to call home.
You finished your competitive career at Newman. You have been there ever since as a coach. What makes Newman a special place?
Smith: Newman is just an incredible place. It's very special. You're not just a number. If we're recruiting you to be at Newman University you're going to be our guy for the next four to five years. Smaller class size. I think we're at a 14-to-1 class to professor ratio. That's no different in our wrestling room. Great family atmosphere, whether it's on the academic side or on the wrestling side, just a small family. We are right here in Wichita, the largest city in Kansas. I believe Newman is the only private Division II school in Kansas. We have a number of different degree paths. We're known for our medical. 100% acceptance rate into KU med school. So if you're looking to be a doctor, a nurse, anything in that area, we are your school in the Midwest. But I'm a business guy. We have those degree paths as well. So just a number of different opportunities. That prevents anybody from getting stuck in a degree path that maybe isn't meant for them once they get here.