CEDAR FALLS — Max Thomsen is unquestionably a leader for Northern Iowa wrestling.
The sophomore 149-pounder is one of two returning All-Americans, owning one of the Panthers’ top records this season. His example isn’t limited to the wrestling mat or the practice room.
In addition to being the top seed at this weekend’s Big 12 Championships, Thomsen earned conference all-academic honors, joining 165-pounder Isaiah Patton on the first team.
“I try to set a high standard in everything I do,” said Thomsen, studying business administration management and one of five Panthers honored overall. “It’s not just wrestling. It is whatever area in my life — relationships, school and wrestling — I try to give it my all and be the best I can in that area.”
Thomsen, 174-pounder Taylor Lujan and Drew Foster at 184 each received the No. 1 seed for UNI’s debut in the Big 12 Conference tournament Saturday and Sunday at Tulsa, Okla. Thomsen, a four-time state champion at Union Community, is looking for his second straight NCAA Championships berth after placing fifth nationally a year ago.
“It’s the same approach I’ve been going with all season,” Thomsen said. “I focus on getting better and trying to maximize my potential and put the best me out on the mat.”
Seventh-ranked Thomsen enters the national qualifier with a 23-6 mark, trailing Lujan for the team lead in wins by one. He is 5-0 in Big 12. He opened the season with a win over Princeton’s then-No. 5 ranked Matthew Koldzik, who is now 10th, but he closed the regular season with a loss to Missouri’s No. 4 Grant Leeth.
“I feel good,” Thomsen said. “There have been ups and downs, but right now I’m not focusing on the past. I’m always looking ahead to the future and being excited for my next opportunity, which is the Big 12s.”
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Each of Thomsen’s six losses have been by just one point. UNI Coach Doug Schwab said those matches boiled down to one position or a decisive takedown and the message has been for Thomsen to trust his dynamic offensive and give himself more opportunities to score during matches.
The regular season has provided some tough but important lessons.
“The good thing about Max is he always goes back to work,” Schwab said. “He doesn’t put his head down.”
Schwab said Thomsen has a good perspective. He focuses on the process for improvement instead of specific outcomes. Schwab has witnessed Thomsen put that into action the last six to eight weeks, which is what propelled him to a solid postseason as a freshman.
“It will be no different,” Schwab said. “He has done a tremendous amount of work over the last calendar year to get himself better. Now, it’s just trusting in that and pulling the trigger in the big moments.
“I think he’s in a great spot. I’m excited to watch him compete this weekend.”
Thomsen said he has finished his takedowns at a greater percentage, improving on his feet from last season. He has made strides in the bottom and top positions. Thomsen said he needs to loosen up and let the skills flow in competition.
“I think I’ve gotten better all around,” Thomsen said. “Now, it’s just putting that technique and effort out on the mat.”
Foster (22-4) and Lujan (24-5) are both unbeaten in conference competition this season. Foster is also a returning All-American, placing seventh at 184 last year, giving the Panthers more returning All-Americans since the 2004-05 season.
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The Panthers’ Josh Alber (141) and 197-pounder Jacob Holschlag are seeded third. Alber has won all but one match against a conference foe, falling to Oklahoma State’s two-time NCAA champion Dean Heil. Holschlag is a former Union state champion and returning NCAA qualifier.
The Panthers will make their debut in the Big 12 Championships after five years in the Mid-American Conference. They have a chance to set the bar for future teams.
“I’m excited to compete alongside my teammates,” Thomsen said. “I’m really lucky to have a team atmosphere that is so tight. This is our first chance to really cement our legacy in the Big 12.”
The Panthers are battle-tested, wrestling in a pair of top tournaments during the regular season. The goal isn’t to just be part of the field in one of the top conferences, but budge to the front of the line that includes storied programs like Oklahoma State.
“Our guys are prepared,” Schwab said. “From what I see, feel and hear, they are just eager to go out and compete and looking forward to it. Not a pressure thing, but ‘we’re ready and let’s go let it fly.’"
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