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Who Will Win the 125-pound Hawkeye Horserace?
By Mike Finn
The Iowa wrestlers are known as Hawkeyes … except at 125 pounds where the battle between Cory Clark and Thomas Gillman to become the starter in 2013-14 is turning the redshirt freshmen into another type of impressive animal.
“I’m pretty motivated by myself, but when I have someone pushing me or nipping on my heels, it’s like a horserace,” said Gillman. “Maybe if I don’t feel like getting up in the morning or coming in here late at night, I might be thinking about what (Clark) did today.”
So to are fans of the nationally-ranked team, which is ranked No. 2 in WIN’s preseason Tournament Power Index and looking to find out who will replace a graduated Matt McDonough — the three-time finalist and two-time national champion — at Iowa’s lightest weight class.
“They are even and we like them both,” said Iowa head coach Tom Brands. “They are a little bit different in their styles. We knew that when we recruited them even though they were both 125 pounders. But we also knew they were the best kids in the country. It wasn’t an issue then and it’s not an issue now.”
Both wrestlers show potential to become an All-American at 125 pounds next March, considering Clark defeated Illinois’ defending national champion Jesse Delgado last winter and Gillman represented the United States this past August at the Junior World Championships in freestyle.
The only problem is Iowa will be forced to sit one of these talented wrestlers this winter.
“They are between a rock and a hard place,” said Brands, referring to the fact that it would be hard for the loser of the 125-pound battle to move up to 133 pounds, where two-time All-American Tony Ramos is ranked No. 1 nationally. Brands expects these wrestlers to compete at different weight classes in the future.
Actually, both Ramos and the Iowa coaching staff considered moving Ramos up to 141 pounds — the senior from Carol Stream, Ill., defeated Virginia Tech’s No. 3-ranked 141-pound Devin Carter in the Nov. 1 NWCA All-Star Classic in Fairfax, Va., where Ramos weighed in as a 133-pounder — but will keep Ramos at 133 this season.
“(Such a move) would be good for the team but not for Tony Ramos,” Brands said. “If it’s best for him, we’d move him up, but he’s a 133-pounder.
“I really thought about it this year,” Ramos said. “It’s something I’ve struggled with myself. I love Gillman and Clark. I’d hate to see either one of them sit on the bench because they are both great athletes. Sometimes you have to be selfish and do what’s best for you.”
Clark, a four-time Iowa state champ from Southeast Polk High School near his hometown of Pleasant Hill, Iowa, was the first to commit to Iowa two years ago. Gillman, a four-time Nebraska state titlist from Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, knew that when he later signed with the Hawkeyes.
“I looked at the bright side of it that I would have a partner I could spar with and a partner who would get me better,” said Clark. “We both have the same goals: coming in and getting better day-by-day. That’s all there is to it.”
“It’s the best place to be. It doesn’t matter of who’s here or not here,” said Gillman, who posted a 23-5 record while competing in Open tournaments last winter. “It’s going to give me the best opportunity to reach my goals and those are World and Olympic medals.”
Gillman proved his freestyle mettle last summer when he qualified for the Junior World Team and eventually finished eighth at 121 pounds in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“It was amazing,” said Gillman. “It modified my mindset. I found out a lot of things and made some adjustments and I’m getting comfortable with those adjustments.”
Clark, meanwhile, may have enjoyed an even better true freshman season last winter when he compiled a 20-3 record while competing at both 125 and 133 pounds. One of his victories was a 2-0 decision over Gillman in the finals of the Kaufman-Brand Open. Another came a few weeks later over Illinois’ Delgado, 6-1, in the finals of the UNI Open in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Both wrestlers also competed at the prestigious Midlands, where Clark finished fourth and defeated Oklahoma’s Jarrod Patterson, who redshirted last winter and is currently ranked No. 4 in WIN’s preseason poll. Gillman finished 2-2 in the Midlands.
Rather than have Clark and Gillman compete in a wrestle-off, Brands expects to make a decision on a starter after the two compete in tournaments like the Midlands this winter.
Brands said their mentality is the same, even if their styles are not.
“Both have good skills. Both are serious and coachable,” said Brands. “Their attitudes are the same and they work hard on the sport.
“You have one (Clark) who does super (duck-unders) from the outside and scrambles. The other guy (Gillman) likes underhooks and hanging out in a good solid position and hit his holds when they are there.”
Clark said he made his biggest improvement in the practice room last winter.
“I was wresting guys who normally could put it to me or get the better of me,” Clark said. “I figured out what they were getting on me and staying away from that.
At first I was doing better (getting out) on the bottom. Once I figured that out it was a neutral position, and I learned to hand fight better.”
“I just have to keep coming in here and working hard,” said Gillman. “It doesn’t matter what’s happening in my head or his. It’s a matter of what’s happening on the mat. I just have to keep working and pushing forward.”