Cory Clark's NCAA title run ends one win short
ST. LOUIS – Cory Clark didn't win his first national wrestling championship Saturday night.
But with the sophomore from Southeast Polk's runner-up finish after an 11-8 loss to Oklahoma's Cody Brewer in the NCAA finals at 133 pounds, he was the flag-bearer of Iowa wrestling in 2015 — and maybe for the next two years.
Finishing second nationally may have seemed a long shot two weeks ago, when Clark entered the Big Ten Championships as the No. 5 seed.
Clark's title dream ended one spot short of his goal at the Scottrade Center after Brewer, a junior who was seeded 13th but finished with a 22-1 record, controlled a match that was more one-sided than the final score indicated.
"I felt ready to go, but he got to my legs and I didn't capitalize, and he kept getting to my legs," Clark said in a statement released by the UI after he declined interviews.
"I've got to be way more ready to go than I was. I've got to make an adjustment during the match."
Brewer took down third-seeded Clark five times in the first two periods with a relentless barrage of attacks.
Thanks to a baseball analogy Brewer learned from assistant coach Michael Lightner, the three-time all-American kept Clark off balance.
"If you're a pitcher, you're not going to throw a fastball all the time," Brewer said. "You're going to change them up and throw a curve ball and other pitches. … I think I got a couple of different shots in there, which was good to keep him on edge of what I was going to shoot next."
Clark entered the third period down 10-5 and inched back with a late takedown and stalling point on Brewer, but time ran out.
"He reverted back to old habits," coach Tom Brands said. "He reverted back to not setting guys up. That's not where he's best.
"Even if you give up that first takedown, the way you come off the bottom, get back in it with your good stuff."
Clark's journey to a 30-6 record and the NCAA finals began with a decision to move up to 133 pounds after finishing fifth at the NCAAs at 125 in his redshirt-freshman season.
Clark sliding up to 133 made way for redshirt sophomore Thomas Gilman to move into the lineup at 125, where he had a brilliant season that ended with a fourth-place finish. They were Iowa's two highest point-scorers in a run to second place in the NCAA team standings, the highest for the Hawkeyes since their last national title in 2010.
"He's a stud. He's scrappy," Gilman said. "... I'm really proud of him."
This year was one of growth for Clark. After capping a 14-0 start with a Midlands Championships title, he fell into a funk — losing four of seven matches — and dropped as low as No. 8 in the national rankings.
"He came on in the end, and he's definitely done his best wrestling toward the end of the year. That's what you want," Brands said. "But let's pick up where we left off and then build from there starting next year and we'll be where we want to be.
"If we can continue a good thing, let's continue it."
Some of those matches he lost with sluggish starts. That wasn't an issue in his quarterfinal win over Iowa State's Earl Hall, in which he racked up a 5-0 first-period lead.
In others, he had sloppy finishes, but he corrected that by avenging a February loss to Penn State's Jimmy Gulibon in the semifinals.
Although he finished second at the Big Ten Championships in Columbus, Ohio, it was clear Clark was figuring it out at just the right time. He had won 13 of 14 bouts before Saturday night.
"He's a super competitor. He's a super talent," Brands said Friday night. "There are just some things, and I say this not as a knock on him, but he's a scatter-brain a little bit. He's a dumb blond.
"He likes to kind of stray sometimes, and that's OK. He likes to have fun maybe a little bit different than maybe I would, and that's great.
"He's able to still have that. But the things that are important in your life — nutrition, rest, those sorts of things — have to stay on the forefront of your priority list, and he's done that."