By DARREN MILLER
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Nothing comes easy at the Big Ten Conference wrestling championships. But University of Iowa seniors Cory Clark and Sammy Brooks embrace the challenge of becoming the first Hawkeye repeat league champions since Matt McDonough in 2011-12.
And, according to seeds, neither Clark nor Brooks is the guy to beat at his respective weight class. Clark (12-2) is seeded third at 133 pounds behind Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State, the 2016 Big Ten champion at 125, and Eric Montoya of Nebraska. Brooks (21-2) is seeded second at 184 behind Penn State’s Bo Nikal, the 2016 Big Ten champion at 174 pounds.
The Hawkeyes finished runner-up in the team race last season in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where Clark defeated Zane Richards of Illinois in the finals, 2-1, and Brooks handled T.J. Dudley of Nebraska, 6-4.
“The individuals will take care of the team race,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said. “The team race is important, we want a good team result, and that starts with individual results.”
Clark, a three-time All-American and two-time NCAA finalist, has been limited to 14 matches while rehabilitating a shoulder injury. His last three matches — all against nationally ranked competition — produced 26 points and two victories.
“It has been kind of a tough season with sitting out matches,” Clark said. “I wanted to be out there scrapping every day and there were days I had to back off a little bit and do something else. Now I feel strong and ready to go.”
Since losing by first period fall to Nikal on Jan. 20, Brooks has defeated defending 174-pound national champion Myles Martin of Ohio State, 5-3, pinned Hunter Ritter of Wisconsin, won by major decision over Bobby Stevenson of Minnesota, pinned Jaquan Sowell of Nebraska, and won by major decision over Dakota Geer of Edinboro.
“It’s not any different than any other wrestling tournament,” Brooks said. “It’s that time of year; I have been in tough tournaments my whole life and I have the experience, so I know how to wrestle in these tournaments.”
Clark views this weekend’s action as a steppingstone to the NCAA Championships in St. Louis from March 16-18. As a freshman, he followed a fourth-place Big Ten finish by placing fifth at the NCAA Championships. He was third in conference and second in the NCAA as a sophomore, then Big Ten champion and NCAA runner-up as a junior.
“It is a big opportunity to get to where you want to be for the national tournament,” Clark said. “You always want to perform well and keep building on where you are in the season. I look forward to showing what I can do — getting that Big Ten title.”
Brooks finished third in the Big Ten as a sophomore, but did not place at nationals. He followed his conference championship in 2016 with an eighth-place, All-America, finish at the NCAA Championships.
“I know I can wrestle in these tournaments and come out on top,” Brooks said. “I am going in there to do the same thing, sharpen what I do well and strengthen what I might not have done well.
“I have been consistent for a good amount of time here and have been wrestling hard and smart and I have to keep improving.”
Session I of the Big Ten Championships begins Saturday at 9 a.m. (CT) from Assembly Hall. The championship finals begin at 2 p.m. (CT) on Sunday with BTN providing live coverage.