Max Kristoff carries on his family’s wrestling legacy
A third generation member of college wrestling royalty, Max Kristoff has no doubt seen the countless articles and clippings pasted in the family scrapbooks.
His grandfather is Larry Kristoff, a two-time Olympian who built a program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville that once dominated NCAA Division II wrestling. The Cougars won three straight national championships (1984-86) under Kristoff, who also helped develop 18 NCAA Division II national champions and 111 All-Americans over 30 years.
Among his national champions were sons Mark and Kip Kristoff, who each have become high school wrestling coaches.
Next fall, Max Kristoff, a senior at Althoff, will introduce a third generation of the wrestling family to the SIUE wrestling Cougars.
Currently 37-4 and ranked second in the Class 1A 145-pound weight class heading into the Carterville Sectional on Friday. Kristoff knows some added expectation that comes attached to his name.
“I know there is a (family) legacy there but I don’t look at it as a downfall or even something I have to live up to,” he said. “I have to be my own person. I’m going to make a name for myself.”
Kristoff was part of a strong Althoff contingent to last year’s IHSA State Meet that brought back two championships. Brothers Danny and Zac Braunagel were state champions at 160 and 182 pounds, respectively, while Chase Bittle placed second at 126 pounds. Althoff also got a fourth-place finish from Matthew Minick at 106 and sixth-place medals from Anthony Federico and 132 and Kristoff at 138.
Kristoff placed fifth in state in 2017.
Now 76, Larry Kristoff lives on his 250-acre farm in Anna where he enjoys hunting, fishing and hosting his family. He also enjoys keeping a close eye on his two favorite wrestlers — granddaughter Grace Kristoff, a freshman wrestler at McKendree University, and her younger brother Max.
“Max didn’t really talk to me about colleges and I never really said anything to him about it. It was his decision and he had to go where he’ll be happy,” he said. “That’s what counts to me as well.”
Max Kristoff will join and SIUE program that is on the rise in NCAA Division I under coach Jeremy Spates.
“They game me a great offer,’’ Kristoff said. “I’ve known these coaches for a while. I’ve seen where the program has been and where it’s going. Coach Spates is a good coach who knows what he’s doing. Plus I’ll know the guys on the team. It has a home-like atmosphere and wrestlers in the room who can push me to be a Divisiion I All-American.’’
A three-time state tournament place winner, Max Kristoff will be one of 10 Althoff wrestlers at the Carterville Sectional Friday.
The top four wrestlers in each weight class qualify for the IHSA Class 1A State Tournament, which begins Feb. 14 at State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign. Kristoff placed sixth at 138 pounds at last year’s state meet.
Larry Kristoff said he plans to be at both events to watch his grandson close out his high school career, he hopes, with a state championship.
“If he wrestles the way he is capable, he’s got as good a chance as anybody,’’ Larry Kristoff said. “Last year at the state tournament, he didn’t wrestle well and shouldn’t have lost the semifinal match. But at that level if you aren’t at your best, you’re going to get beat. That’s what happened.’’
Whatever happens the next two weeks, being a member of the Althoff wrestling program has been a great experience for Kristoff.
“My freshman year I wanted to be a state champion, but wrestling with the Braunagels (Danny and Zac) along with Chase (Bittle), I got beat up everyday in practice. But it made me better and helped to make me the wrestler I am today.
“My grandfather will be there the next two weekends. Normally, I don’t like it when anybody except my immediate family shows up to watch me, but I am very, very close to my grandfather. I love it when he comes to watch me compete. It’s very motivational.’’