By Courtney Baumann
Iowa wrestler Cory Clark came into the season a three-time All-American who had lost twice on the big stage.
He left on top.
In a 4-3 win over Seth Gross of South Dakota State, the 133-pounder became the first Iowa wrestler since Tony Ramos in 2014 to earn a national title.
Clark worked his way to a 15-3 record before being seeded No. 4 at the national tournament. In St. Louis, the senior won five straight to finally earn the title that had eluded him.
Though his senior year ended in the best way possible, it wasn’t always pretty in Clark-land.
After missing the month of December, Clark finally returned to the mat in January wearing a large black shoulder brace and a taped wrist, both on his left side.
Time and time again, both he and Iowa head coach Tom Brands assured fans and the media that it was nothing serious — that Clark was ready to go when he was needed.
Clark never seemed to show much pain, which is impressive, knowing what we know now.
The Pleasant Hill, Iowa, native fought through almost the entire season with a blown-out left shoulder and torn ligaments in the same wrist. Surgery was necessary to repair his injuries, but he decided to wait until after the season to fix it.
No one, other than a select few of those close to him, knew the extent of his injuries until a press conference following the final win of his career.
Clark knew he would have to deal with the injuries if he wanted to reach the highest stage at the college level, and in doing so, he believes he became a better wrestler.
“Looking back at it, maybe that’s why I won,” Clark said in a press conference immediately following his win. “Because I really had to suck it up, and I really had to make sure to become a better wrestler because of the injuries I had.”
The season en route to a national championship — other than the injuries — didn’t necessarily go as planned, either.
In the 10 dual meets he did participate in, Clark was upset twice during the season by the then-No. 5 seeds. His first loss was in the Oklahoma State dual — which Iowa went on to lose — to Kaid Brock, and the second was to Eric Montoya of Nebraska.
At the Big Ten Tournament, the senior started off hot. He won his first three matches over Tristan Law (12-3), Bill Rappo (5-0), and Mitch McKee (7-1).
Clark hit another roadblock in the Big Ten Championship matchup.
Nathan Tomasello, a national champion at 125 pounds, moved up a weight class for the 2016-17 season. Though Tomasello wrestled in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the Iowa-Ohio State dual, Clark did not. The Big Tens was the first time the two had faced each other, and Tomasello came out on top.
Going in to the national tournament, Clark knew he would more than likely have to face Tomasello again. Teammate Thomas Gilman said Clark sat on his phone watching the film of the Big Ten Championship match for weeks trying to figure out what to do better the next time.
In the semifinal match of the tournament, Clark and Tomasello had their rematch, and, of course, Clark won. The 7-4 decision pushed the Hawkeye into the championship match.
Clark is leaving the program as a four-time All-American, Big Ten Champion, and National Champion. The Hawkeye Wrestling Club recently announced Clark is going to join the organization upon graduation.
Even after failing two years in a row to reach the top of the podium, 2017 was the Year of Cory Clark.
“I always said four-time NCAA champ was my goal … And each year I didn’t accomplish that, it hurt me inside. So to get it done this year is incredible. It means a lot,” Clark said. “I’m just — it’s incredible to finally get this done. I’ve had two years in a row where I spent a week — weeks in my basement just pouting, just being a baby, just not doing, not in a good spot. Not doing the 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.”