ST. LOUIS — A Union County native son found his dream spot Saturday night.
When Cory Clark stood atop the 133-pound medal stand at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Scottrade Center, it was the culmination of a four-year career at the University of Iowa that included two other appearances in the national finals.
But, his 4-3 decision over Seth Gross of South Dakota State, a former Iowa teammate, was the first championship for the former Southeast Polk High School star. And, he did it while wrestling for most of the last three months with an injured left shoulder and torn ligaments in his wrist.
Clark moved from East Union Community School to the Southeast Polk district as an elementary school student. He is the son of Paul Clark of Afton and Robin (Hoffman) Van Heeswyk of Pleasant Hill, originally from Shannon City and also an East Union graduate. Robin's husband Rob Van Heeswyk is originally from Afton and a former East Union wrestler.
Cory's uncle, Donald "Butch" Hoffman, is a former three-time state wrestling placewinner for East Union.
Cory's grandparents are John and Tammy Clark of Afton and the late Jim and Maxine Hoffman.
Clark reached the NCAA finals for the third consecutive year Saturday, when he faced Gross, his former Hawkeye teammate who was dismissed from the Iowa team after an arrest during his redshirt freshman year.
In a first-period scramble situation, Gross fought off a single-leg attempt and covered Clark for a takedown 1:56 into the match. Clark nearly reversed Gross, but ended up escaping in the final 40 seconds of the first period to trail 2-1.
They exchanged escapes in the second and third periods before Clark snatched a strong double-leg takedown and rode out Gross for the 4-3 victory.
One night earlier, Clark (20-3) avenged a loss to Ohio State's top-seeded and previously unbeaten Nathan Tomasello by grinding out a 7-4 decision in the semifinals. Clark was seeded fourth in the tournament.
The win marks the 82nd individual championship in Hawkeye history and the program's first since Tony Ramos also reigned supreme in the 133-pound bracket.
Clark, a four-time state champion at Southeast Polk, wrestled most of the season with a black protective sleeve on his injured left shoulder. He also disclosed Saturday night he'd been battling torn ligaments in his left wrist.
Clark is Iowa's 19th four-time All-American. He had been defeated by Oklahoma's Cody Brewer, 11-8, and Cornell's Nahshon Garrett, 7-6, in the 2015 and 2016 national finals, respectively.
In his final three matches of the 2017 tourney, he battled successfully through the gauntlet of No. 5-seeded Steven Micic of Michigan, the No. 1 seed in Tomasello and the No. 2 seed in Gross. He finished his career as a Hawkeye with a 98-15 record.
Clark is the fifth four-time Iowa high school champion to win an NCAA title.