Iowa's Cory Clark looks to defend conference title after rough regular season

Senior has overcome injury and said he is ready for postseason

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Iowa’s Cory Clark has faced some adversity during his senior season.

This year has included some injury, missed time and a couple of rare losses.

Now, the three-time All-American and four-time state champion from Southeast Polk has reached the time of year where he has been known to thrive.

Clark will look to defend his conference title at the Big Ten Championships this weekend at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. Action begins Saturday at 10 a.m. with the finals Sunday afternoon.

Clark is the third seed at 133 pounds and he said he feels strong.

“I feel ready to go,” Clark said at the Hawkeyes’ weekly media availability Tuesday. “I can tell it’s the end of the year just by how things have been going. Things get shorter and sweeter. Your body starts to feel good. Your mind feels strong. I can definitely tell those things are coming on this time of year.”

The spotlight is larger this time of the wrestling season. Clark has made a habit of shining when it is brightest. The point is hard to argue, considering he is a two-time NCAA finalist and three-time All-American for the Hawkeyes. Even as a prep, he demonstrated his penchant for postseason success by becoming Iowa’s 21st four-time state champion and a Junior Freestyle and Greco-Roman national champion.

“This time of year is maybe a little more special for him than other times of the year,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “Great competitors are sometimes gamers and then there are great competitors that every event means something to them. Clark gives his all in every event, but I think the postseason is a little more special to him. He’s probably one of those guys wired that way.”

At 12-2, Clark has fewer matches than any other Hawkeye competing in the NCAA qualifier. A shoulder injury sidelined him from competition during December. He has sat out occasionally ever since his return in early January.

“It’s been kind of a tough season with sitting out matches and working on things that I want to be out there scrapping every day,” said Clark, who has wrestled with a shoulder brace and his wrist taped. “There were days I had to back off a little bit and kind of do something else.”

Clark relied on his coaches, including Tom and Terry Brands, and Hawkeye Wrestling Club Olympian Daniel Dennis to help him through that stretch. Tom Brands even spent extra time to put Clark through workouts to maintain his conditioning when he couldn’t go full-speed in practice.

Tom Brands said that Clark trusted their lineup decisions and the long-term vision, even if he saw things differently at times.

“Now, we’re here and he sees it,” Brands said. “He feels as good as he’s felt probably his whole career.

“There was a reason for it. He understands the reason. The thing about Cory Clark is there wasn’t much doubt in why (he) was sitting. It’s like, ‘It’s OK. You think it’s best, I’m sure. I wasn’t thinking that way but if you think it’s best then go ahead.’ That’s not always easy to get out of a guy either.”

The setbacks came with positives. The injury prevented Clark from approaching practice in the same manner as when he was healthy. He focused on tightening his technique. He worked on different ties and tried to improve setups. He viewed it as a challenge and a way to get better.

“I can see ways where I’ve been forced to wrestle a different way,” Clark said. “I’ve been forced to collar tie with a different arm. Snap differently. It makes my position more solid in ways.”

Clark, ranked fifth by trackwrestling.com, is seeded behind Ohio State’s former NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello and Nebraska’s Eric Montoya, who beat Clark, 9-6, in the regular-season finale. The conference has nine automatic qualifiers and Clark should have enough to earn a wild card berth, regardless of finish. They do have the option of getting him extra recuperation for the NCAA Championships at St. Louis, Mo., in less than two weeks.

“We’ll go one match at a time with him but all systems go,” Brands said. “I’m sure of it.”

Clark and 184-pounder Sam Brooks claimed Big Ten titles last season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes haven’t had someone win consecutive conference crowns since Matt McDonough in 2011 and 2012.

“It means a lot to them,” Brands said. “it’s a new year and it’s important. It’s important that they put their best wrestling forward and do what they go to Indiana to do.”

Unbeaten and top-ranked Thomas Gilman (125) is the only Iowa wrestler seeded first. Brooks, NCAA finalist Brandon Sorensen (149) and 157-pound freshman Michael Kemerer are seeded second. All-American Alex Meyer (174) and freshman Joey Gunther at 165 are fifth. Senior Topher Carton will make his postseason debut as the sixth seed at 141. Cash Wilcke is seeded seventh at 197 and heavyweight Steven Holloway is unseeded.

Iowa is a contender with Ohio State, but teams will be chasing defending champion Penn State, which has three top-seeded wrestlers and nine seeded fourth or better. The emphasis is on each wrestler doing their best and advancing to the national tournament and the rest will fall into place.

“The individuals will take care of the team race,” Brands said. “The team race is certainly important. We want a good team result and that starts with individual results.

“We’ve made progress. Now, our best wrestling has to show up. That’s got to be the most important ingredient. Our best wrestling has to show up in every individual weight class.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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