Well-mannered wrestler becomes a beast on the mat

Sarah Mitchell

Gophers wrestler Owen Elzen has a shy demeanor. But that’s only off the mat.
When Minnesota’s freshman grappler goes head-to-head with his opponent, the character displayed by Elzen is anything but calm.
“There’s a silent, quiet strength there,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “But behind that presence is a fierce competitor. He made a statement for that on Sunday.”
The 2nd-ranked Gophers were at Wisconsin on Sunday, and with top-ranked Tim Hartung suffering from flu-like symptoms, Elzen was forced into the starting line-up at 197-pounds. The freshman defeated No. 17 Ryan LaGrange 11-5.
The Eyota, Minn., native, who said he welcomes the change of big-city life because he was “in the middle of corn, just sitting amongst the corn back home,” also anticipates stepping up next year and becoming Hartung’s predecessor.
“It’s kind of a blessing in disguise,” Elzen said of his time as Hartung’s understudy. “Tim’s a great guy. He has so much knowledge.”
Elzen began building his own wrestling knowledge as a four-year-old. Elzen’s father, Gary, who was a state champion wrestler at Faribault High School, was the motivation behind Elzen’s entrance into the sport.
Gary remembers his son’s first competition, a tournament called the Southland Invitational.
“I can remember getting out of the car that day and going to register and he said, ‘Dad, I don’t know if I want to play,'” Gary said. “He ended up wrestling and winning. After that he got in some 160 matches before wrestling in high school as a seventh grader.”
Gary recalled Elzen’s first high school wrestling competition just as fondly. As a seventh grader on the Dover-Eyota high school team, Elzen opened his first season at the Winona Invitational.
“The night before the tournament he was nervous,” Gary said. “We were talking and I told him to have small goals, like wrestling for six minutes without getting pinned or just scoring some points.”
Elzen did more than that in his match against a wrestler he only remembers as “a senior from Houston.” The newcomer ended up winning and compiled a 2-2 overall record in the 16 team tournament.
Since he chose Minnesota over other collegiate suitors such as Michigan State and Northern Iowa, Elzen has learned to be strong off the mat as well. And he had to learn the hard way: the two-time state champion at Dover-Eyota blew out his knee last spring.
After recovering and returning to the mat this fall, Elzen suffered another season-stalling injury. The freshman broke his arm at the Bison Open on Nov. 14 and needed to have a metal plate inserted.
“It just wears on me,” said Elzen of his recuperation time. “Once you’re away from it, though, it reignites the fire.”
When talking about the sport to which he has devoted his life, the well-mannered wrestler — although his mother seems to think Elzen’s polite ways are a ruse to pick up girls — becomes more intense. Unlike those goals set before the Winona Invitational, Elzen has higher objectives.
“I’ve sat for two years. I’ll be ready for it,” Elzen said. “I want to be the NCAA champion next year. I may as well shoot for the top.”