ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Cory Clark was unyielding when it came to not making excuses for his beat up left shoulder.
Win or lose, Clark was always going to be a competitor going after the one thing that had escaped him during his stellar wrestling career at the University of Iowa.
Clark made no excuses and he didn’t need any on his way to a thrilling 4-3 victory over South Dakota State’s Seth Gross to win the 133-pound national championship Saturday at the NCAA Division I wrestling championships at the Scottrade Center.
“I’m just ... it’s incredible to get this done,” Clark said. “I’ve had two years in a row where I spent a week ... weeks in my basement just pouting ... not in a good spot. Not doing right things.
“And today I can look forward and know in two weeks I won’t be in my basement with my headphones turned all the way up and crying two weeks from now. So that is a good thing.”
Clark had lost in the 133 national finals in back-to-back seasons and early in the year he tore a ligament in his wrist only to suffer a more serious injury to his left shoulder two weeks later.
The 19th four-time All-American at Iowa was held out for an extensive period of time, from Nov. 27 until Jan. 6, rehabbing the injury in preparation to try to make a run at that elusive title.
Clark’s resolve to win it wavered only a little.
“I thought if it wouldn’t have got done it would have been a disaster because that was my goal as a senior in high school,” Clark said.
“So all year I had a torn wrist and two weeks later I took a bad shot, shoulder blew out of the socket. That’s not an easy injury to deal with,” added Clark. “So it was definitely a time where I didn’t tell anybody this, but in my head I was thinking real bad thoughts. I couldn’t lift my arm two inches, let alone reach out and take a shot. I thought, ‘How in the heck am I ever going to get back on the mat?’”
It was sometime in December when Clark was pouting and Brands pulled him into his office.
“When I was at my all-time low, Tom pulled me in his office and talking to me, ‘What, you think your season is over? Why are you out there pouting?,” Clark recalled. “He was not being mean. He was just being realistic. He wanted to get some stuff out of me because I didn’t open up to anybody.”
Clark eventually returned to Iowa’s lineup, suffered a couple of losses, including in the Big Ten finals to Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello, a loss he avenged in Friday night’s semifinals. But his will to win it all stayed strong.
Then, on Saturday, he faced former Hawkeye teammate Gross. He fell behind 57 seconds into the first period. He escaped quickly. Clark then tied it in the second on an escape, only to see Gross retake the lead with an escape to start the third.
But with 1:23 left in the third, Clark scored a takedown to take a 4-3 lead and then put on the best ride of his life.
“I thought he was going to be, not taking anything away from him, it was freakin’ one of the toughest matches all tournament, but it was an easier ride than I expected, let’s say that,” Clark said.
Clark rode out Gross and with the victory became Iowa’s 54th different and 82nd national champion.
“I think he was dialed in. He was relaxed. You could tell by his demeanor that he was super relaxed and ready to go,” Iowa assistant coach Terry Brands said. “He wasn’t racy, he didn’t force things.
“He showed a lot of mat savvy, a lot of focus, a lot of poise. That was really the difference for him this week.”
The Hawkeyes finished fourth with 97 points, behind Penn State, which defended its title and won for the sixth time in seven years.
Iowa rallied from fifth to fourth place with an excellent medal round as the Hawkeyes won seven of eight matches. Thomas Gilman at 125, Brandon Sorensen at 149 and Michael Kemerer at 157 all finished third with senior Sammy Brooks taking fourth at 184.
Gilman, the top seed who lost in stunning fashion to Lehigh’s Darion Cruz in sudden victory Friday, topped second-seeded Joey Dance of Virginia Tech in the consolation semifinals before routing Nicholas Piccininni of Oklahoma State, 13-6, for third.
“Bronze medal. Whoop-de-doo. The bigger deal for me is losing, re-focusing and coming back,” Gilman said. “I came here on a mission to be a national champ, but you know what, sometimes you get blown off course. You get dropped off somewhere else and you have to fight your way back.”
Sorensen, the former Denver-Tripoli four-time state champion, rebounded from getting pinned for the first time in his career in the semifinals Friday to beat Solomon Chishko of Virginia Tech, 8-0, then Micah Jordan of Ohio State, 4-0, in the third-place match at 149.
Sorensen’s victory over Jordan for third was his 100th career win.
“In the sport of wrestling there are ups and downs. In life there are ups and downs,” Sorensen said. “But the world doesn’t stop just for you so you have to continue to move forward.
“I don’t know the last time I got pinned. It has been a while. It stung. It stung deep. It is real good mentally to come back and get third, helps mentally to move forward.”
A junior, Sorensen is now a three-time All-American with fourth-, second- and third-place finishes under his belt. Gilman finished his career as a three-time All-American.
Kemerer, a freshman, beat Joe Smith of Oklahoma State, 7-1, in sudden victory for third, while Brooks was pinned by T.J. Dudley of Nebraska in his third-place match.