Chad Leistikow and Andy Hamilton look at the semifinals and whether Iowa has a chance it win it all in Saturday's finals
ST. LOUIS – Last year's NCAA wrestling champion at 133 pounds, a ticketholder Friday night, walked down the Scottrade Center stairs to have a quick chat with an Iowa sophomore who hoped to be the next.
The general message from Tony Ramos to Cory Clark before the national semifinals: wrestle all seven minutes, and good luck.
"That's all I needed to hear," said Clark, who did just that — beating Penn State's James Gulibon 7-5 about 30 minutes later. "When he initially waved me over, it was kind of like I was trying to get ready for my match and I don't really like to go just talk to someone about nonsense. And I was hoping he wasn't going to try to start some random conversation."
Clark laughed, "But luckily, he was on the same page I was on."
The 133-pounder joked about last year's national champion at 133 pounds.
Wrestling the full seven minutes was a lesson Clark had learned against Gulibon in February, an 8-5 decision after Clark took an over-aggressive shot while leading in the closing seconds.
Since that point, Clark has won 13 of 14 matches — an ascent Ramos saw coming while sparring with Clark in the Iowa wrestling room.
"The biggest thing I've seen, and you saw it in the Big Ten Tournament (when Clark finished second after being seeded fifth)," Ramos said, "was keeping his composure, not getting frustrated if something wasn't going how he planned."
Clark kept alive an important streak at Iowa that Ramos continued last year. This marks the 26th consecutive March that a Hawkeye wrestler is in the NCAA finals.
When Clark made the move from 125 pounds a year ago (where he finished fifth at NCAAs) to 133, he did so knowing he was filling Ramos' shoes.
"Just coming to Iowa in general, it's guys like Ramos you look up to and you want to wrestle like that guy," Clark said of his former roommate. "I mean, youth, kids, everyone — there are a lot of people out there that want to wrestle like Tony Ramos. I happen to be one of those people."
Clark's run to the finals didn't look so promising in January. After winning the Midlands Championship, he lost four of seven matches, which brought out the doubters.
Ramos wasn't one of them, tweeting out his support for, and confidence in, Clark.
Clark fought off Gulibon's attacks Friday and turned them into two takedowns to provide the margin he needed. Even after the third-seeded Clark fell behind 2-0 on a Gulibon reversal, Ramos remained confident.
"I know how he can scramble. I wasn't nervous at all," Ramos said. "I know him too well. Clark's a tough guy."
The former NCAA champion for Iowa at 133 pounds watched from the stands Friday night.
Clark won his semifinal match on the same mat that, minutes earlier, housed a stunning and quick loss for 125-pound teammate Thomas Gilman.
When Clark was told of Gilman's loss by associate head coach Terry Brands, his first reaction was shock.
"It blew me off my feet for a second," Clark said. "But then I took a breath and brushed it off my mind."
Standing in Clark's way for Iowa's second consecutive championship at 133 is Oklahoma's 13th-seeded Cody Brewer, who has rolled through the bracket — including a major decision over Big Ten champion and top-seeded Chris Dardanes in Friday's semifinals. Clark and Brewer have never faced each other.