ST. LOUIS — “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands screamed at the top of his lungs as he ran off the floor and into a back hallway at the Scottrade Center on Friday night, discarding his sports coat along the way.
Brands had plenty to be stoked about. His protegé, Iowa senior 133-pounder Cory Clark, had just upset top-ranked Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State, 7-4, in the semifinals to earn a spot in tonight’s national championships.
Clark, who missed much of the season with shoulder and wrist injuries, showed no emotions after the win, which puts him in the national finals for the third time in his career.
This time, Clark is determined to win that elusive national championship.
“Tough match, good, hard-fought match. Wasn't pretty in my favor, but I got the ‘W’ and I'm always just out there to wrestle hard and when I got out there I felt real loose and I felt relaxed and I felt really good,” Clark said. “When I'm feeling that way I'm tough to beat. I may not hit the prettiest shot or may not hit the legs in finish, but I'm tough to beat and I think that showed.”
By the end of the day, Iowa had slipped to fifth place with 74 points. Penn State has all but locked up its second straight national title and sixth in the last seven years. The Nittany Lions have 121 points and five finalists. Ohio State is second with 89 1/2 points, followed by Oklahoma State (86) and Missouri (81 1/2).
Clark will take on former Hawkeye Seth Gross of South Dakota State, who won a 12-3 match against Kaid Brock of Oklahoma State in the other semifinal match. Two years ago, Gross was in jail back in Iowa after a serious brush with the law. Now, he finds himself battling a former teammate for a national championship.
“Two years from this day I was in jail. I mean, it's crazy to think what God has done for me and my team has done for me, my family, and everybody that's had my back since then,” Gross said. “Looking back that day I never thought I would be wrestling in the NCAA Finals two years from now. I thought my wrestling career was over. It's an amazing feeling. Can't thank God enough. Just trying to use the best of my opportunity, my coaches that God has given me and everybody that was rooting for me. I'm doing this for them.”
“That's crazy to think about it the way you say it, but two years has gone by and I think he's matured and I think he's formed himself into what he wants to be,” Clark said of Gross. “Back then he was a redshirt. He wasn't really wrestling for a purpose or whatever. I'm not going to sit here and say he's a screw off or he doesn't have the frame of mind I have because maybe he didn't two years ago, but I'm not going to take him lightly. I know he's aware your and wants to win this National Championship, and I know he would love to stick it up my you know what. That's my job and no one else can control how that match goes, other than me. My coaches have prepared me for it but it's all in my hands from here on out.”
That was about all Iowa had the cheer about on Friday night. The Hawkeyes went 1-3 in the semifinals, with top seed Thomas Gilman getting upset on a late takedown in regulation and another late takedown in sudden victory in a 4-2 loss to Darian Cruz of Lehigh.
“He's strong, I would say, and he waits for you to make a bad move and then he counters and scores,” Cruz said of Gilman. “I tied up with him, as strong as I could, I stayed patient and chose my shot selection. I realized he was super duper sweaty, really early. Which is kind of rare at the 125 weight class. We get sweaty, but he was super slippery, and that's what I used in the takedown. I knew I couldn't grab anything, so I had to get him leaning one direction and fire off that shot and get him from behind. I knew I had to get him leaning one way so I could beat him around the corner.”
Two other Iowa semifinalists — Brandon Sorensen (149) and Sammy Brooks (184) — were pinned by opponents from Penn State.
Sorensen was stuck in 2 minutes, 36 seconds by defending champion Zain Retherford, while Brooks was caught and stuck in 1:02 by Bo Nickal.
“I felt like I had a secure lock and I had his chin,” Retherford said. “There is a position where you're either getting back points or lacking for the fall, and I adjusted and as soon as I adjusted I felt -- I heard the ref say, 30 seconds, and I was like I think I have enough time to do it.”
Brooks lasted just 1:02 against Nickel, who ended the match almost as quickly as it began.
“I’m always looking for the fall, looking and trying to score some bonus points for my team. But I just go out there and wrestle, and that's the way it went, so yeah,” Nickal said. “You know, I don't really feel like a win or a loss defines me. It's not going to make or break me as a person. I'm just going to be who I am each and every day. Just because you win or lose on a wrestling mat doesn't mean that you're a different person after the loss. I just kept going, and it's life, you know. Some things aren't going to go your way. Just got to keep moving forward.”
Gilman, Sorensen, Michael Kemerer (157) and Brooks will compete in the consolation semifinals this morning.
The Hawkeyes lost two wrestlers in the consolation bracket. Senior Alex Meyer and redshirt freshman Cash Wilcke each fell one win shy of the All-America stand. Meyer’s season ends with a 26-9 overall record. Wilcke was 19-13 in his rookie campaign.
“Tomorrow is important,” Iowa coach Brands said. “Getting two wins from Kemerer helped. We addressed (the consolations) at the end of last year and beginning of this year. We’ve communicated that the third day does matter.”
UNI freshman Max Thomsen advanced to the semifinals at 149 with a 5-1 win over Kenny Theobald in the quarterfinals, but lost a 4-2 match to Missouri’s Lavion Mayes in the semifinals. Thomsen held a 2-1 lead after a reversal in the third period, but Mayes scored an escape to tie it, then got a takedown with three seconds left to win it.
“It doesn’t matter who it is. I’m going to come out, try to get to my offense, try to score and win the match,” Thomsen said. “The pressure is always there because, for me, I want to perform my best. There’s a lot of people that have put a lot of time into me, so I want to show them the best Max Thomsen because they deserve it. So the pressure is always there.”
What a competitor. He’s lived with nerves and kind of managing things. He’s used to a big stage. He loves the big stage. He’s got to finish strong (today), which I know he will. When I look at the way he was a year ago, he’s getting better and better in every position. That’s fun to see those guys that make that jump. It’s him and he’s raising everyone’s level. That’s what we love to see. Small-town Iowa boys. They love the sport and they love being at UNI. They’re going to keep raising our level,” UNI coach Doug Schwab said. “He’s really close to being an incredibly dangerous man. That’s a great thing. I don’t think he’s even begun to tap his potential and that’s exciting.”
UNI sophomore Drew Foster earned All-America status at 184, losing to Oklahoma State senior Nolan Boyd, 11-7, in the semifinals, then beating Michael Machiavelli of North Carolina State, 3-1, then losing to Ohio State’s Myles martin, 8-6. Foster will wrestle for seventh place this morning.
Foster, after losing a heartbreaking 11-7 decision to fourth seed Nolan Boyd of Oklahoma State in the 184-pound quarterfinals on Friday morning, battled back to beat North Carolina State’s Michael Machiavelli, 3-1, in the consolations on Friday night, solidifying All-American status.
As Foster removed his leg bands and flung them in the air, he pumped his fists in celebration.
Special? How about All-American?
“It feels great. Now I just have to climb up the podium,” Foster said. “I’m still undersized at 184. I’m walking around at 190, so over the summer just getting bigger, strong. Just improving on my stuff. There’s a lot of stuff I need to do to get to the top. It’s coming out at these nationals.”
“The way he carries himself. He doesn’t get carried up in it. He’s got wrestling in perspective. It’s not life or death. It’s not going to change who he is — whether his Mom loves him, who his friends are, when his birthday is, whether he wins or loses a match,” said UNI assistant coach Randy Pugh, a former two-time state champion for Columbus
High School and All-American at UNI. “I don’t really care if he every wrestles another wrestling match. Obviously we want him to on the team. I’m more proud of the the kid that he is, the way he was raised and the man that he’s turning into be. That’s bigger to me than any result will ever be, any wins or losses.”
Northern Iowa is in 17th place with 23 1/2 points and will bring home two All-Americans to build its program around next year.