CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s Max Thomsen has endured a tough year.
His first major injury hampered his postseason last March. This season opened with a return from offseason surgery to repair his shoulder. Thomsen battled some self-doubt as well.
Despite all that, the 2017 All-American has managed to post an 18-6 mark and regain his confidence heading into the Big 12 Wrestling Championships this weekend at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. Thomsen is the second seed at 149 pounds, takes on Wyoming’s Jaron Jensen in the first round Saturday, starting at 10 a.m.
“It’s been an up and down year, but I think I’ve learned a lot,” Thomsen said. “There are a lot of things I don’t think went right for me last year that I want to make right this year.
“I wrestled through that and stayed positive. I kind of proved myself wrong. Now that I’ve proved those doubts wrong I’m excited to go back to the Big 12s. I got second last year, so I want to move up a spot there and I want to keep that running at the NCAAs.”
Thomsen placed fifth at the NCAA tournament as a freshman. He was a Big 12 tournament finalist last season, but missed the national podium. Thomsen never let on that he was battling a shoulder injury that had to be fixed by going under the knife.
UNI Coach Doug Schwab said that can reside in the back of an athlete’s mind, even if they don’t want it to.
“He’s always performed well,” Schwab said. “He’s healthy this year. It took a little bit to get him healthy, even coming back from that surgery and now he knows his shoulder is in great shape. His body and his mind are in great shape. I think more than anything is he knows that he can handle some trials.”
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Thomsen found himself in an unusual situation, having to work himself back into full speed early in the season. Working through a significant procedure for the first time was a learning experience. He came out better for it.
“I learned I have to be patient,” Thomsen said. “I couldn’t jump right in the room and scrap it out because I did have a hurt shoulder. Just how much more patient and poised it made me. I had to do things the right way, short and sharp and kind of changed my training.”
Thomsen’s resilience was on display. Schwab said he discusses a consistent approach and rough times can help you grow the most. If you can get through those stretches, you realize it wasn’t as bad as you thought.
“We talk about staying steady and even when those waves get real choppy, that is when you have to have your faith and believe. He’s got a ton of work in and you have to remind him of how much he’s put in throughout the years. You have a lot of money in the bank to rely on.”
Thomsen, ranked 12th, lost three matches in a four-match stretch in the middle of the season. It may have played a part in shaken confidence, which seems odd to associate with Thomsen, a four-time state champion at Union Community who had immediate success in college.
“It’s just something you’re going to battle eventually sometime in your career,” Thomsen said. “I know I’m starting to redirect those doubts into beliefs.”
Thomsen said he was able to adapt and adjust his style. The way he wrestled, shooting singles with his head down and extending his arms, led to his injury. He has changed, working smarter and finishing quicker.
“I’ve got to let it fly and wrestle to dominate,” Thomsen said. “Not wrestle to get by and win, but wrestle to get that Panther wrestling style out there and make a point that I’m the best guy in the country.”
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Schwab said they have emphasized getting the most out of every day. He has seen Thomsen improve in every position and still thrives when he is aggressive.
"For him, it is make things simple,” Schwab said. “Go out and fight for seven minutes and give yourself as many attacks as possible. That’s all he wants to do. If he does that, I’ll tell you what, a lot of 149-pounders in the country are in trouble.”
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