Nov. 5, 2015
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, July 29, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2015-16 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Cory Clark was in second grade with eyes on a four-foot wrestling trophy, a symbol of dominance that stood taller than he did at the time.
All Clark needed to do that day was continue his undefeated career and come out on top of a four-man bracket. He lost.
Life can be cruel, but Clark turned it in to a learning opportunity and found light from a dark moment.
“That was a turning point in my wrestling (career), because I didn’t really train that hard,” Clark said. “I was beating kids, but I didn’t have any technique. I just gritted it out.”
In elementary school, Clark was a tornado on the mat, gnashing his teeth and mean-mugging opponents before the opening whistle, then relying on headlocks for success. That changed after his first defeat.
“I needed to learn some technique,” Clark said.
He imitated his idols — Centerville’s T.J. Sebolt, a four-time state champion, Dan Gable, the Brands brothers, Brent Metcalf — and looked for leg attacks while learning the art of wrestling rather than winning with brute force.
After eighth grade, Clark, a native of Pleasant Hill, Iowa, dropped all other sports and embraced the summer wrestling circuit. He won four state championships for Southeast Polk (103 pounds in 2009, 112 in 2010, 119 in 2011, and 126 in 2012) while compiling a record of 179-1.
“I wanted to be the best wrestler I could be and high school is when I tuned all into wrestling,” Clark said.
UI head wrestling coach Tom Brands noticed.
“The kid can flat-out wrestle and he loves wrestling,” Brands said.
A Hawkeye fan, Clark signed with the University of Iowa. He spent the 2012-13 season redshirting with two-time NCAA champion Matt McDonough in the varsity lineup. Clark went 20-2 competing unattached, including a 6-1 decision over Jesse Delgado of Illinois, who won the national title at 125 in 2013.
As a redshirt freshman in 2013-14, Clark and Thomas Gilman shared time at 125. An 8-0 dual record helped give Clark the postseason nod over Gilman and he finished 22-4 overall, fourth in the Big Ten Tournament, and fifth at NCAAs to earn his first All-America award.
Last season Clark moved up a weight class to 133 while Gilman solidified the spot at 125. Clark went 30-6, placing third at conference and runner-up at nationals. He was named the Mike Howard Most Valuable Wrestler for the Hawkeyes.
“When you’re a fan, you don’t get up and go get your ice cream during Cory Clark‘s match, that’s for dang sure,” Brands said. “I think Cory Clark is right there with the best in the history of this program, he is that good.”
“When you’re a fan, you don’t get up and go get your ice cream during Cory Clark’s match, that’s for dang sure. I think Cory Clark is right there with the best in the history of this program, he is that good.”
UI head wrestling coach
Iowa shared the Big Ten Conference title with Ohio State in 2015, but the Buckeyes scored 18 more points at the NCAA Championships, leaving Iowa as runner-up. You can imagine what is on Clark’s mind this season.
“National title,” he said. “Every year I feel we’re capable of winning a national team title and this year I feel the same. In order to do that, we all have to want to be individual national champions.”
Like the team, Clark was so close to his weight division’s top prize in 2015. He was victorious in his final two conference bouts — 8-2 over No. 8 Zane Richards of Illinois and 2-1 over No. 11 Johnni DiJulius of Ohio State. Clark reached the NCAA finals by reeling off wins against Ronald Perry of Lock Haven (7-5), Rossi Bruno of Michigan (12-4), Earl Hall of Iowa State (7-1), and Jimmy Gulibon of Penn State (7-5).
Under the spotlight on an elevated stage at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Clark fell behind 11-5 to Oklahoma’s Cody Brewer and lost, 11-8.
“It is fuel to the fire like any loss, but it’s a lot bigger than any loss,” Clark said. “Any loss is really motivation, you can get down about it, but it motivates me to do more in the practice room or whatever it takes to beat that guy the next time.
“When (a loss) happens in the finals it’s that (feeling) multiplied by 10. It gives you something to strive for; you know you came up short and you came so close, so you know you have to do everything you did in the past and then some.”
Brewer, a senior, and Clark, are 1-2 in preseason rankings at 133 by InterMat. There is preseason speculation that Brewer will be at 141 this season.
Clark spent most of the summer in Iowa City, working on his own, sparring with World Team members, and assisting with camps. He didn’t let his skills “go down” as much in the summer, meaning Clark will be in “game shape” earlier this season.
“I’m a lot sharper and very close to where I ended the season,” Clark said. “I’m not as rusty, I’m seeing things, and my timing is there.”
Brands likes that Clark is a workhorse when he steps on the mat.
“The quality I like most about him is that when he is in the wrestling room and training, he is serious business,” Brands said. “He has had to win some tough, tough matches by being tough.”
Clark has succeeded in transitioning from an elite high school wrestler to one of the best in college. He credits Hawkeye coaches and teammates for helping him see the value of wrestling when tired and being skilled on top, bottom, neutral, and in scrambles.
His primary sparring partner is Gilman. After a somewhat adversarial first two seasons in the room, the two are aiming for the top of the NCAA podium at different weights.
“He is one of my favorite people to practice with because I know I’m going to get the most out of that day,” Clark said. “If I’m going with Gilman it’s going to be a good workout whether I’m having a good day, bad day, or if he is having a good day, bad day. Either way, just the way we’re wired, whether we’re sick or feeling awesome, we’re going to force ourselves to wrestle well.”
Clark has come a long way since second grade when he watched another competitor strut out of the gymnasium with the coveted four-foot trophy. Ironically, that other competitor was Gilman.
“He helped me back then and he helps me now,” Clark said.