Gilman, Clark “nip at the heels” of Iowa wrestling’s McDonough


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Thomas Gilman knows by now it isn’t always a good idea to take down Matt McDonough in practice.

Sure, it’s nice to know he can score on a two-time NCAA champion. But it also means he can look forward to some serious pain.

“There’ll be times where we’ll be wrestling pretty even, and I’ll get a takedown,” Gilman said. “And he’ll get up right away head-butting, and get a takedown, and start ripping my arms off. Whenever you get a takedown, you know that’s coming.”

The Iowa wrestling team has a pair of true freshmen at 125 pounds this season who enter the program with impressive credentials. Gilman is a four-time Nebraska state champion, and Cory Clark won four Iowa state titles at Southeast Polk High School.

Their arrival has meant that, for perhaps the first time, McDonough is being truly pushed in the practice room. That showed itself at wrestle-offs last weekend. Clark edged Gilman in an overtime match on Nov. 9, and the next day he nearly pulled off a shocker.

Clark led McDonough with five seconds left before a last-second reversal gave the fifth-year senior a victory.

Head coach Tom Brands said that sort of competition will help McDonough’s as he chases a third title this season.

“I think he got a good reality check there,” Brands said. “It’s not just, you blow on a guy, and he falls down, which is what he’s been used to — a little bit too much. We like this.”

McDonough said hasn’t had younger wrestlers at his weight class trying to “stake their claim” before — or “nipping at his heels,” as Gilman put it. And he’s been impressed with the newcomers.

“Some people may not want to rise to the challenge of wrestling someone who has some credentials, who’s been in the spotlight and won a title,” McDonough said. “But for a true competitor, it doesn’t matter who you are. These guys are coming at you with everything they have.”

And while McDonough nods in approval, Clark especially has had to learn not to be star-struck. As an Iowa high-school wrestler, the Pleasant Hill native said he had been a fan of McDonough’s “since his freshman year.” But he realized quickly during the summer that it was easy to get over when his head was being shoved into the mat.

“Just wrestling him,” Clark said. “It was pretty ugly.”

Gilman, for his part, went with “pretty brutal” to describe his early bouts with McDonough.

Next year, when McDonough has graduated, Gilman and Clark will compete against each other to replace him in the lineup. For now, both said their job is to “push back” in practices and keep him sharp.

But McDonough, of course, isn’t the only one who benefits from the arrangement. Gilman said that early in the summer, he often only escaped from the bottom against the two-time champ twice or so per day. Now, he goes toe-to-toe with him. And Clark said the close wrestle-off result shows he has “made a lot of gains since Day One.”

“I wrestle McDonough to push him and make him better,” Clark said. “But at the same time he’s, like, the best partner in the country. I’m using that to learn and make big improvements myself.”

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