From Africa to Fresno, buffalo wrestler Owen Pentz has found a home in Fargo – InForum

FARGO — Several years ago, Owen Pentz competed in the USA Wrestling Junior National Wrestling Tournament in Fargo, the annual event held each July at the Fargodome. He was a freestyle finalist for a year, but otherwise the experience was nothing short of amazing.

It was hot and humid. The landscape for a child in the mountains of Utah was too flat.

“I just remember hating the place,” Pentz said.

More than half a decade later, which included a Mormon mission to Africa, enlisting in Fresno State while in high school in 2016, enrolling in school twice only to see the abandoned program, he loves Fargo these days. Specifically as a starting 197-pounder in North Dakota State.

Not your average Bison wrestler who took a familiar path to NDSU. Pentz is a 23-year-old sophomore (technically a freshman) with a wife, Josey, and a baby on the way.

“Not many kids my age get to do what I was able to do,” Owen said.

His two-year mission took place mainly in South Africa with a stint in the neighboring kingdom of Lesotho. The missionaries had 30 minutes to train each morning, although for Pentz it consisted of push-ups and sit-ups in his apartment or maybe a 30-minute jog.

He returned to the United States in June 2019 and departed for Fresno State in August to honor his Letter of Intent. He signed up for classes, went to a few practices, but the situation didn’t feel right. He dropped out of college and returned to Utah to his rural home near the small town of Croydon and worked.

He re-enrolled at Fresno in the fall of 2020. It was also during the COVID-19 pandemic, so he was taking classes online and not allowed on campus. He will never forget the day of October 14 or the phone call from a Fresno State coach.

Pentz was helping his father on the farm when he heard the news: the school was canceling the program at the end of the season.

“Everyone was caught off guard,” Pentz said. “My first thought was, honey, I don’t need to go back to California.”

Having yet to struggle in college, he decided to end the year with the Bulldogs, at least initially. He and Josey were married Nov. 27 and were later on their way to Fresno when NDSU head coach Roger Kish called.

Kish had known Pentz since high school, though the interest wasn’t mutual. Pentz remembers throwing an NDSU recruiting letter in the trash.

“He kind of disappeared for a while,” Kish said, ignoring the Mormon mission. “He’s one of those guys that we always had our eye on and eventually came back to him.”

Pentz’s agricultural background and NDSU’s agricultural academic excellence made a good fit. He and Josey continued at Fresno, but Owen tested positive for coronavirus and was unable to practice.

“My wife wasn’t a big fan of the California lifestyle,” Owen said. “We packed everything up and went home for the Christmas holidays.”

Kish didn’t let go. Owen liked this persistence from Bison’s coaches and the idea of ​​struggling for a lame duck program was not appealing.

“I had to sit and think, if I really want to wrestle in college, the NDSU and the coaching staff are looking at a kid who hasn’t done it in three years, so might as well take my opportunity,” said Pentz. .

So he enrolled in the spring semester 2021. The first day was memorable. It was a Tuesday, and the plan for Pentz was to take a tour of the Bison facility and watch practice. While watching the Bison wrestlers warm up, Kish asked Pentz if he had any practice gear. He had none.

Kish took care of it and before long Pentz was on the mat doing drills with redshirt rookie Mike Nelson.

“I remember being so tired I couldn’t even get up,” Pentz said. “I was shooting, trying to knock Mike down and falling to the ground. They use the term “fusion”. I was melting like ice.

Pentz was taken out of practice and sent to the treadmill. He wasn’t just out of wrestling sight for three years, he was out of shape.

“It got to the point where he doubted he was a Division I athlete,” Kish said. “Being away from the game for so long makes you question yourself. Fighting elite wrestlers in good physical condition and trying to hold on plays tricks on you if you’re out of shape. Once we got it back in shape and got it back into the system, it was smooth sailing.

Pentz slotted into the starting lineup and went 4-2 in doubles. He qualified for the 2021 NCAA Championships and went 2-2, narrowly missing out on All-American status. The plan is to change that this season.

He’s 12-5 at 197 pounds heading into the weekend’s Big 12 Conference home duels against West Virginia on Saturday and the Air Force on Sunday. Pentz turned heads in Wyoming two weeks ago with a pin on No. 3-ranked Stephen Buchanan.

“Just in addition to his wrestling ability, he’s one of our leaders,” Kish said. “He is a very stoic child who behaves well. When he speaks, the guys listen and that’s very important. He has a lot of life experience under his belt. He has the ability to see the big picture. »

Robert J. King