In the end, Tom Brands opted for the guy who had the 125-pound job in the beginning.
The Iowa wrestling coach confirmed Wednesday that Cory Clark will represent the Hawkeyes this weekend at the Big Ten Championships after splitting time throughout the season with fellow freshman Thomas Gilman.
“I’ve been saying all year we’ve got two guys who are good and those guys are neck and neck, and they both showed that,” Brands said. “It wasn’t about being in the lineup, it was about being the best they could be every day. We like what we have there, but in the end we went with Clark.”
Clark takes a 15-0 record with nine pins into the Big Ten Championships, where he was tabbed as the No. 3 preseed at 125. Gilman compiled a 16-3 record. Together, they provided the Hawkeyes with a couple highly-ranked options throughout the season.
The battle for a spot in Iowa’s postseason lineup marks the latest chapter between two Iowa natives who have been squaring off since they wrestled 11 years ago in the 50-pound state AAU bracket. It seemed inevitable that one would wrestle and the other would sit for a year when the Hawkeyes landed signed both prized prospects in the fall of 2011.
Clark defeated Gilman twice last year during their redshirt seasons and won a 4-0 decision in November when they met in the finals of the Luther Open. The four-time state champion from Southeast Polk held the starting job until December when he battled weight-control issues. ,
Gilman, a Council Bluffs native who won four Nebraska state high school titles at Skutt Catholic in Omaha, momentarily emerged as the front runner when he won the Midlands Championships. His biggest win of the tournament came in the semifinals when he knocked off defending NCAA champion Jesse Delgado of Illinois while Clark’s third-period lead against Bucknell assistant Jarrod Garnett simultaneously eroded into an overtime loss on an adjacent mat. The defeat didn’t count against Clark’s official college record, but it factored into Iowa’s plans.
The Midlands title vaulted Gilman up to No. 3 in the national rankings and he started the first six duals of January before getting whipped to his back twice and losing by fall against Minnesota’s Sam Brancale.
Clark wrestled in three of Iowa’s final four duals and finished the regular season with a first-period fall against ninth-ranked Ryan Taylor of Wisconsin.
“It’s one of those things where he started to get his weight under control, got stronger the way he needed to get stronger,” Brands said. “It was never an issue with either one of them whether they could wrestle or not. It’s an issue on which one gives us the best chance to go deep into the season. They both can do that.
“Clark probably had the nod at the beginning and it’s one of those things where both guys have proven themselves and Clark emerged a little bit over the other guy. There’s really nothing that separates them. They’re the same. They’re two really good kids. I can’t say enough about either one of them.”