(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best wrestlers in Montana history on Jan. 16 with the launch of the #MTTop20. Athletes will continue to be featured until Friday, Feb. 10 when No. 1 is unveiled.)
Top 20 rankings: No. 20 – Jarrett Degen; No. 19 – Luke Weber, No. 18 — Ben Stroh.
No. 17 – Curtis Owen, Polson
There are certain traits that run in a family’s bloodline. For some it may be physical, such as height. Others carry on a family business – electrician, farming or ranching.
The great Owen family goes hand-in-hand with wrestling. Six brothers and three sisters were each tied to the sport and eventually watched nephews have success on the Montana mats, perhaps none more so than Curtis Owen.
Curtis Owen stat sheet
A four-time finalist at the Montana state championships, Curtis Owen helped guide the Polson Pirates, coached by his uncle Bob and father Bill, to consecutive state championships in 1995 and 1996. After finishing fifth his freshman season, Owen earned a third-place finish at 130 pounds as a sophomore as the Pirates claimed the Class A team title. A year later, Owen stood atop the podium as the champion of the 152-pound class and Polson again took the top team honors. A four-time divisional champion, he capped his senior season with another title, stamping a 133-13 record on his prep career.
Owen became the first Tri-State champion in his family since his uncle Don won in 1974 and 1975. He competed two years at North Idaho College, guiding the program to the NJCAA championship in 1998. A year later he was the 174-pound national champion and an all-American as NIC finished runner-up in the team race.
His collegiate career continued at Arizona State University, where he qualified for the NCAA Championships in his first season as a Sun Devil. After posting a fourth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships, he capped his first year in Tempe with an 18-16 overall record.
The following season Owen was the team’s starter at 174 pounds, where he went 24-14 and again qualified for the NCAA Championships after a third-place finish at the Pac-10 Tournament. Injury forced him to use a medical redshirt season the following year.
Owen left Arizona State with a gold medal at the Pac-10 Championships, a fourth-place national finish and as an NCAA all-American, the first Sun Devil to be honored on the all-American team at 174 pounds. He was also an academic all-American selection and was the first ASU wrestler to be named first team on the Verizon Academic All-District VIII and NWCA Academic all-American teams. Arizona State finished in the NCAA Top 20 in each of his seasons with the program.
Owen is currently the developmental coach for Sunkist Kids wrestling club in Arizona and has long been a coach at Chandler High School.
Owen’s cousin Pat was a three-time Montana high school champion and collected more than 100 wins at the University of Michigan. He received the Big 10 medal of honor. Owen’s brother Matt was also a state finalist for Polson. Matt and younger brother Brett serve as assistant coaches on the Polson staff, along with their fathers, Bill and Bob. Cousin Kevin, who wrestled at North Carolina, is the Pirates’ head coach.
Bill and Bob Owen led the Pirates to two state championships and multiple divisional titles. Uncle John Owen guided North Idaho College to numerous national championships and was three times named coach of the year. Don Owen, the youngest uncle, competed in the first Tri-State Tournament, placing once and winning twice. He has coached wrestling in Idaho and Washington state. Tim, the second-youngest of Curtis Owen’s uncles, also competed and medaled in that first Tri-State Tournament and served as a high school wrestling coach. Mike Owen was a wrestling coach at Missoula Sentinel High School.
… on Curtis Owen:
Current Polson wrestling coach and Curtis Owen’s cousin, Kevin Owen: “Curtis, he always had that competitive nature. With him, especially growing up in the same town as him and him being someone I looked up to, he never had nerves. I think they joke around, my dad and my uncle, about the fact that he never had butterflies until he was competing on the national level. He went through his entire high school career just being a gamer. He always had that competitive nature and thought process that he was going to win. That kind of translated to, as soon as he started developing the other aspects of his athleticism and wrestling, he already had the basic tools he needed to be successful in college.
“Just a brawler. There have been multiple guys he wrestled against and even on his team that I’ve met when I was in college and when I was coaching with him down in Arizona, they said he was one of those guys you didn’t want to wrestle in a tournament. He would basically go to war, just banging. He would injure himself just as much as the other people but he was one of those guys that when you came off the mat you said, ‘I don’t really want to wrestle that guy again.’
“I was still in middle school, maybe early high school when Curtis was competing at the national tournament, when he finished fourth at nationals. He had a dislocated elbow and he had broken his nose so he had a face-mask on. He was the type of competitor that just kept competing. Watching him maneuver through that national tournament put me in the right mindset for my own athletic endeavors. No matter what happens you just adapt, adjust and improvise. Watching Curtis lose early in the national tournament and then fight his way all the way back through the most grueling tournament in the entire country to make the third-and fourth-place match, it was pretty crazy to watch, impressive. It’s one of the few tournaments that always sticks out to me even though I wasn’t competing in it.”