After a season rife with high expectations turned into a first half full of setbacks, junior wrestler Tommy Owen this weekend finally got back to the mat in position to set himself forward.
He entered the year ranked 10th in the nation at 141 pounds and was expected to provide punch in the middle of the Gophers lineup. But after injuring his neck at practice in November, Owen was forced out of the lineup, and it took until this weekend at the National Duals in Cleveland for him to make a positive impact for the Gophers.
“I went for about 3 1/2 weeks where I couldn’t get on the mat, and couldn’t run,” Owen said. “I just kind of sat out injured and did what I could, but it was a pretty frustrating time.”
He sat out Minnesota’s first two tournaments, and when he got back on the mat, he was limited by his neck injury.
Owen returned for the Mat Town Invitational on Nov. 27, and after losing his second-round match to Pittsburgh’s Joe Ciampoli, he did not wrestle for the remainder of the tournament because of injury.
“I just really felt that my conditioning wasn’t there and my timing was way off,” he said. “Things just weren’t clicking very well. When you’re not in shape, it’s kind of hard to do what you want to do out on the mat.”
It wasn’t until the Southern Scuffle tournament in late December that Owen felt as if he could wrestle up to his own expectations, but again, injury set him back. He finished 2-2 at the tournament.
“After the Southern Scuffle, it was kind of the last straw tolerance-wise,” Owen said. “After that tournament, it was kind of like, ‘This is getting a little out of hand.’ “
It wasn’t until this weekend in Cleveland that Owen returned to form.
Owen went 3-2 at the tournament, including a major decision win against Brandon Carter of Central Michigan. He also kept two matches close in losing 4-0 to fourth-ranked Cory Cooperman of Lehigh and falling 7-4 to eighth-ranked Josh Churella of Michigan.
With that success, expectations have again been set high for Owen.
“I think he’ll be great, he’s just got to get a little confidence and get on a roll,” junior 165-pounder Matt Nagel said. “This weekend was really good for him.”
With the re-emergence of Owen, Minnesota is suddenly two-deep at 141 pounds entering the Big Ten dual season. Quincy Osborn, who won the starting spot to start the season, is now ready to return from a knee injury that had him out of the lineup since Dec. 5 against Northern Iowa.
“We’re going to have to make a decision what we’re going to do,” coach J Robinson said. “It’s just kind of for us a game of waiting to see which of them – when they get the opportunity – is going to shine about what’s going on.”
Fighting his own rustiness for a starting spot, Owen must now make up for lost time in the second half of the season.
“It’s tough to change your mind frame,” he said. “Instead of coming in and thinking you’ve got all this time ’til the end of the season, for me it was ‘I got to do it right now; I’ve got to do it today.’ “