We Must Break You: Cory Clark is Good and Other Thoughts From Midlands

That's Cory Clark wrestling Matt McDonough at the wrestle-offs earlier this season. - Darren Miller (Hawkeye Sports)

Some belated thoughts on several of Iowa's non-starting wrestlers.

This past week saw a flurry of high-quality college wrestling tournaments, with the long-standing Midlands event in Evanston taking place over the weekend and the relatively new Southern Scuffle taking place the past two days in Chattanooga. Iowa didn't participate in either event. That was nothing new where the Scuffle is concerned (Iowa has never participated in that event), but definitely out of the ordinary where Midlands is concerned. Iowa was the defending champion at the event and had been a regular participant for years.

So why weren't they there this year? The schedule, apparently. The Big Ten scheduled Iowa to open the conference dual meet season this weekend, with a home meet against Ohio State on Friday, January 4th. This is one of Iowa's biggest dual meets of the season -- it's against a fellow top-5 opponent, features a number of matches with crucial seeding importance, and is a "revenge" meet, given that Iowa lost badly to Ohio State in this fixture a year ago (21-9). Brands has had this meet scheduled on the calendar for several months and he made it clear that he didn't think his team would be in peak form for this meet if they also took part in the grueling, two-day Midlands (December 29-30). (For what it's worth, Ohio State didn't compete in either Midlands or the Scuffle, either.) I think it's unfortunate that Iowa didn't compete at Midlands; even missing Iowa (and several other top teams, as Penn State, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Cornell all competed at the Scuffle) it was still a good event, with several highly-ranked competitors at each weight. The experience of wrestling in a tournament environment is typically useful as well. Still, I can understand his point about making sure the team has the best possible preparation for the Ohio State meet, which is certainly a very big dual.

And so the Midlands went on without Iowa. Illinois took home top honors, with a narrow win over Virginia Tech, 99.5 to 97.5. How would Iowa have done if they'd opted to go and face this year's field? I think they would have won, frankly. Taking a look at each weight briefly...

125: McDonough would have been the 1-seed and a strong favorite to win it all. His most difficult threats would have been Jarrod Garnett (#4, Virginia Tech), Jesse Delgado (#5, Illinois), Anthony Zanetta (redshirt, Pitt), and teammate Cory Clark (assuming Clark had still competed unattached).

133: Ramos would have been a top-2 seed and a solid pick to win it all, especially given the disastrous tournament 1-seed Scotti Sentes (former #2, Central Michigan) had -- he lost three times and finished 8th. His toughest competition would have come from Sentes, Ryan Mango (redshirt, Stanford), Tyler Graff (#3, Wisconsin), and former teammate Dan Dennis.

141: Ballweg likely would have been around the 7-seed, given that five of InterMat's top 7 at 141 (plus current redshirt Devin Carter of Virginia Tech, a likely top-5 wrestler at the weight) were at this event. He wouldn't have been a favorite to win this weight, but he likely would have placed in the 5-8 range.

149: Based on the other wrestlers at the event, Kelly would have been around the 8-seed and he probably could have realistically finished around 7th or 8th place.

157: St. John would have been the 1-seed at the event and a solid pick to win the weight, although the competition at 157 was very solid, with five of InterMat's top-6 represented at this event (including BHGP favorite Jesse Dong). Still, DSJ owns wins over several of those opponents in the past and has looked excellent this year.

165: This wasn't the most loaded weight at Midlands -- only 4 top-10 wrestlers -- but there was enough depth that Moore probably wouldn't have been ranked and based on his form this year, it would be difficult to pick him to finish in the top-8. He'd probably get a few wins, though.

174: Evans probably wouldn't have been any lower than the 3-seed (and you could make an argument for him being ranked higher than 2-seed Robert Kokesh, given that Evans dominated him when both were at 165 last year), and based on his form this year, it would be realistic to pick him to win this weight -- or at least make the finals.

184: Lofthouse likely would have been seeded in the 3-6 range (including Lofthouse, half of the InterMat top 10 at this weight were at Midlands) and 3-6 seems about right for where he would have finished at the event, too.

197: There was a solid group of competitors at this weight at Midlands (4 of the InterMat top-10, including the top 2 wrestlers, Dustin Kilgore and Matt Wilps; 10 of the InterMat top-20), so Burak certainly wouldn't have been seeded at this weight. Hopefully he would have grabbed a win or two and avoided going 0-2 at the event.

285: Bobby probably would have been the 2-seed at this weight behind Central Michigan's Jarod Trice and though there was some other good competition there (4 of the InterMat top-10), it's not much of a stretch to think that Telford could have made the finals -- or at least the top-4.

That would have given Iowa a good shot at 4 finalists and around 7 wrestlers in the top-8. Illinois, the eventual champion, had zero champions, two runners-up, and a total of five wrestlers in the top-8. Virginia Tech, the runner-up, had two champions and a total of four wrestlers in the top-8. Iowa would have likely beaten those numbers with relative ease.

Still, Iowa wasn't without representation at Midlands -- four current true freshmen went to the event and competed "unattached" (which means they weren't officially representing Iowa and can maintain their redshirt status for this season), while two former Iowa wrestlers (Dan Dennis and Montell Marion) also competed in the tournament. The four freshmen who competed were Cory Clark (125), Thomas Gilman (125), Alex Meyer (184), and Sam Brooks (184). What did we learn from their participation? Mostly that the future for Iowa wrestling is pretty bright, particularly at the lower weights, but that those wrestlers are (unsurprisingly) inconsistent. This event was one of their first tastes of big-time competition (outside of what they see in the Iowa training room, that is) and there were some thoroughly predictable stumbles as a result.

We also got further confirmation that Cory Clark appears to be a stud in the making; while his 4th-place finish might have technically been a slight disappointment given his 3-seed, it seems churlish to be disappointed when he beat two wrestlers who are (or would be, if not for redshirts) ranked and lost close matches to a pair of other ranked wrestlers. These results come on the heels of his first-place finish at 125 at the UNI Open, where he scored a notable upset of current #5, Jesse Delgado (the last man to beat Matt McDonough, incidentally). Clark's losses at Midlands were his first losses in competition this season, which is pretty remarkable for a true freshman.

Clark is having a highly impressive true freshman season, already making huge strides from where he was as a high school senior. The fact that he's already not just competitive with experienced wrestlers ranked in the top-10, but fully capable of beating them is incredibly exciting. Even McDonough went just 23-8 during his redshirt season as a true freshman. It's hard to believe now, in the wake of the phenomenal success he's enjoyed over the last three-plus years, but he wasn't the golden boy among Iowa's young recruits back then. Indeed, the career path of the guy who was Iowa's golden boy at the time (Nate Moore) is instructive in reminding us not to pile too much hype on Clark at this young age. Moore went 23-4 as a true freshman (including 3 wins over McDonough, though he also lost to McD twice) and that, coupled with his storied high school career (4-time state champion) had many believing he was the next big thing for Iowa at the lower ranks. That never happened, thanks to a variety of factors (among them injuries, serious illnesses, and weight control). So you never know; early success can be intoxicating, but it doesn't guarantee future glory.

Meanwhile, we should also remember that early success like Clark's is the exception among true freshmen, and not the rule, even among some of the highly-touted recruits Iowa has brought into the program in recent years. Gilman, Meyer, and Brooks haven't matched Clark's excellence yet, but they've all shown flashes of genuine promise and there's still plenty of time for them to mature and improve. (This is especially true for Meyer and Brooks, since wrestlers at the upper weights often need a little additional time to gain strength and size to match their more experienced collegiate competition.) Iowa has some very promising talents in their line-up and the future looks quite exciting at the moment. We just need to remember that, in most cases, these guys aren't ready to walk right into the lineup and compete at an All-America level just yet. The good news is that they don't need to be and they have time to develop.

MIDLANDS RESULTS

125: 3-seed Cory Clark (4-2, 4th place)
W, FALL (2:17) Trey Hicks (Clarion)
W, DEC (7-3) Sean Boyle (Michigan)
W, DEC (3-2) 6-seed Jarrod Patterson (Oklahoma)
L, DEC (10-6) 2-seed Jarrod Garnett (Virginia Tech)
W, DEC (6-1) 5-seed Trent Sprenkle (North Dakota State)
L, DEC (8-4 OT) 8-seed Christian Cullinan (Central Michigan)

Sprenkle is ranked (#6) and Patterson would be ranked, if not for the fact that he's taking a redshirt this year. Garnett (#4) and Cullinan (#11) are also ranked and, based on several reports, Clark had opportunities to beat both of them -- he just made a few silly mistakes late in the match that wound up costing him. It's still a very impressive set of results.

125: unseeded Thomas Gilman (2-2, DNP)
W, DEC (4-1) Evan Silver (Stanford)
W, DEC (5-3) Dylan Peters (UNI)
L, DEC (7-2) 4-seed Jesse Delgado (Illinois)
L, MAJ DEC (12-4) 7-seed Nathan Kraisser (North Carolina)

Gilman hasn't had Clark's success against Delgado this year and his major decision loss to Kraisser (#14) was disappointing, but he had a solid win over Peters, who looks like another potential stud at this weight in the future.

184: unseeded Alex Meyer (0-2, DNP)
L, MAJ DEC (12-4) 1-seed Robert Hamlin (Lehigh)
L, FALL (2:59) Luke Sheridan (Indiana)

Getting Hamlin in his first match was a bad break for Meyer, but getting pinned by Sheridan (unranked) was far more disappointing. A pretty forgettable Midlands for Meyer.

184: unseeded Sam Brooks (3-3, 8th place)
W, FALL (1:39) 7-seed Boaz Beard (Iowa State)
W, DEC (5-2) Jake Waste (Buffalo)
L, TECH FALL (15-0) 2-seed Ben Bennett (Central Michigan)
W, DEC (5-3) 9-seed Mac Stoll (North Dakota State)
L, DEC (5-3) 11-seed Vic Avery (Edinboro)
L, DEC (7-1) Jake Waste (Buffalo)

The win over Beard was impressive and the win over Stoll was nice, but getting blown out by Bennett was discouraging. Bennett is very good (#4), but you'd still like to see a bit more than a 15-0 whitewashing from Brooks in defeat. That's the sort of result that really puts the brakes on any sort of "could Brooks challenge Lofthouse for this spot next year" talk (which was probably hideously premature, anyway). Losing to Waste so decisively a day after beating him is also a little curious, but still: 8th place at Midlands as a true freshman is a very fine result.

UNI OPEN RESULTS

125: Cory Clark (5-0, 1st place)
W, FALL (1:47) Hermilo Esquivel (Michigan State)
W, FALL (1:20) Tanner Schmidt (Upper Iowa)
W, TECH FALL (18-1) Dominic Olivieri (Illinois)
W, DEC (14-10) Dylan Peters (UNI)
W, DEC (6-1) #3 Jesse Delgado (Illinois)

This is where the legend of Cory Clark began, with his incredibly impressive upset win of Delgado in the finals. On the way to the finals, Clark steamrolled most of his opponents and had what looks like a wildly exciting 14-10 win over Peters of UNI. I'm betting that they'll have a few more entertaining tussles in college before their careers are done.

125: Thomas Gilman (5-1, 3rd place)
W, TECH FALL (21-4) Drake Swarm (Iowa State)
W, DEC (11-4) Dominique Price (Purdue)
W, DEC (8-1) Jordan Kingsley (Minnesota)
L, DEC (5-2) #3 Jesse Delgado (Illinois)
W, MAJ DEC (14-4) Cameron Eppert (Purdue)
W, DEC (3-2) Dylan Peters (UNI)

Gilman didn't do too badly himself at the UNI Open, as he had several blowout wins sandwiched around his loss to Delgado. The Eppert win was the best of the bunch -- he's #17 at 125, per InterMat, and Gilman mopped the floor with him. He also scored a win over Peters, although it doesn't look nearly as entertaining as Clark's wild win.

141: Topher Carton (2-2, DNP)
L, DEC (6-3) Steven Rodrigues (Illinois)
W, FALL (0:35) Justin Meyers (Northwestern)
W, DEC (7-6) Adam Perrin (UNI)
L, DEC (4-3) Rylan Lubeck (Wisconsin)

A pin in 35 seconds is damn impressive (at any level), but overall this was a pretty up-and-down tournament for Carton. 141 is not one of Iowa's deepest weights at the moment, but Carton appears to be a good distance away from competing for the starting spot here.

149: Patrick Rhoads (3-2, DNP)
W, MAJ DEC (14-5) Luke Swalla (Iowa State)
L, DEC (2-1) Zach Witte (UNI)
W, DEC (7-5) Jordan Rinken (Upper Iowa)
W, MAJ DEC (12-3) Terry Kubski (University of Denver)
L, TECH FALL (17-0) Caleb Ervin (Illinois)

Rhoads was mentioned by Brands as being in contention for the starting job at 149 early in the season, but his results since then haven't really backed up that assertion. Getting a couple major decision wins is nice, but that tech fall loss to Ervin is ugly.

149: Connor Ryan (4-2, DNP)
W, DEC (7-0) Jacob Revier (Minnesota State)
L, DEC (4-1) Tom Giaimo (Minnesota)
W, DEC (4-3) Thomas Allen (Minnesota State)
W, DEC (4-2) Kasey Einerson (Iowa Western)
W, FFT, Cameryn Brady (Indianapolis)
L, DEC (3-1) Tom Giaimo (Minnesota)

Ryan might have placed at this event if he could have just avoided that Giaimo guy. Ryan, like Carton, is another true freshman who will need more time before he's ready to compete for a starting job.

157: Jake Kadel (1-2, DNP)
W, MAJ DEC (9-1) Bryce Lumzy (Upper Iowa)
L, MAJ DEC (14-2) Matt Nora (Illinois)
L, DEC (9-5) Alex Yde (Wisconsin)

See: Ryan/Carton. (Though Kadel is a redshirt freshman rather than a true freshman.)

174: Kris Klapprodt (6-1, 3rd)
L, MAJ DEC (13-3) Chad Welch (Purdue)
W, DEC (4-1) Carson Powell (Iowa State)
W, MAJ DEC (10-2) Dalton Westerlund (Upper Iowa)
W, FALL (0:00?!) Brandon Pederson (Minnesota State)
W, DEC (7-2) Aaron McMurphy (UNI)
W, FFT Blake Sorensen (Upper Iowa)
W, DEC (9-4) Dawed Hicks (Iowa Central)

Klapprodt started off his tournament poorly, but he really rebounded nicely with six straight wins after that to take 3rd place. It's nice to see him shake off an early bad result and wrestle so well after that. In Evans and Lofthouse, Iowa appears pretty secure at 174 and 184 for the next season and a half, but if Klapprodt continues to improve he'll be battling Brooks and Meyer for those spots when they do eventually open up.

184: Sam Brooks (3-1, 2nd)
W, MAJ DEC (11-2) Tanner Lynde (Purdue)
W, TECH FALL (21-4) Joe Lamanna (Illinois)
W, DEC (5-4) Brett Pfarr (Minnesota)
L, DEC (7-4) #9 Ryan Loder (UNI)

Another solid event for Brooks; his loss was to a top-10 opponent (up to #6, currently) and he demolished a few of his opponents on the way to the final.

184: Alex Meyer (3-2, 5th)
W, DEC (8-3) Patrick Kissel (Purdue)
W, FALL (1:28) Devin Peterson (Iowa Western)
L, DEC (9-2) #9 Ryan Loder (UNI)
L, DEC (8-6) Jeff Koepke (Illinois)
W, DEC (5-3) Patrick Kissel (Purdue)

Like Brooks, Meyer also lost to Loder, but overall had some decent results at this weight in this event.

197: Jeremy Fahler (2-2, DNP)
W, DEC (4-3) Jared Bartel (UNI)
L, DEC (3-1) Carl Broghammer (Upper Iowa)
W, DEC (6-4) Josh DaSilveira (Ellsworth)
L, DEC (3-1) Jared Bartel (UNI)

A very up and down event for Fahler, although he's still listed at 184, so he may be giving up a considerable amount of weight to compete at 197 in this event. There's also not much shame in losing to someone with a name as awesome as BROGHAMMER.

197: Tomas Lira (5-1, 3rd)
W, MAJ DEC (16-6) Nathan Haynes (Minnesota State)
W, FALL (1:44) Isaac Hopkins (Ellsworth)
W, FFT Phil Hanus (Wartburg)
L, DEC (8-3) #17 Kyven Gadson (Iowa State)
W, DEC (10-5) Jared Bartel (UNI)
W, DEC (6-4) Carl Broghammer (Upper Iowa)

Lira avenged Fahler's loss to BROGHAMMER, one of several wins he picked up on the way to a solid 3rd place finish. Lira has his limitations, but he wrestled well here, which led me to believe that he might get a look at the starting job at 197. So far, though, the coaches seem to prefer riding the highs and lows with Burak.

285: Josh Haug (0-2, DNP)
L, DEC (4-1) Cody Krumwiede (UNI)
L, DEC (2-1) Tyler Swope (Iowa State)

Haug is still giving up a lot of weight to compete against 285ers and it shows in his results.

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