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RCTC’s Clark wins in a buzzer-beater

By Neil Tardy

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Devin Clark did his best wrestling toward the end of the season. And he saved his biggest move for the very end.

In stunningly sudden fashion, the Rochester Community and Technical College freshman won a championship at 184 pounds on Saturday’s final day of the NJCAA National Wrestling Championships. Led by Clark and Parker Brand, who was a national runner-up at 197 pounds, RCTC claimed second place among non-scholarship division teams.

Clark, of Sioux Falls, S.D., scored a last-second takedown to edge Springfield (Mass.) Technical Community College’s George Hargrove 3-1. Hargrove had been undefeated going into the 184-pound final.

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Clark admitted he thought the match was headed for overtime. The competitors, well-matched in skill and style, took a cautious approach for most of three periods. But with time running down and Hargrove backed to the edge of the circle, Clark struck.

"I knew the time was going down. We were on the edge of the mat. I didn’t have anything to lose so I went for it," he said.

Until that point, RCTC coach Randy Rager was also looking ahead. "I figured Devin would hang out on the edge and go into overtime. Then all the sudden he hit the little peek-out," Rager said. "He was able to sneak behind the kid and that was it."

Caught off-balance, Hargrove had to place a hand on the mat to steady himself. The officials consulted, and Clark was awarded a takedown as time expired in the third period. A takedown worth two points — and a national title.

Before the match, Clark wore a plain T-shirt with the words "Get it Done." Afterwards, he was as understated as his attire.

"Honestly it could have gone either way," said Clark, who finished with a 29-11 record.

"It feels good," he added. "It’s what I’ve been training for all season."

Rager noted that Clark came to RCTC through a bit of networking. Steve Costanzo, the wrestling coach at St. Cloud State University, dropped a good word to Rager, who was a St. Cloud assistant from 2001 to 2004.

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"I don’t know where he had heard about Devin, but we often exchange information on kids," said Rager.

The coach added that Clark slumped a bit during his first college season, but found himself at the North Central District championships prior to nationals.

"He was still wrestling hard, but it just wasn’t going well," said Rager. "But he got in the regionals and started wrestling really well. He was wrestling smarter, and he wasn’t taking quite as many shots. He’s not a kid who should go out and try scoring 15-20 points in a match. He’s a position guy. For him to come through and wrestle as smart as he did is great."

In the past four seasons under Rager, four RCTC wrestlers have competed for a national title. Clark joins Kasey Meiners (2006), as RCTC champions. Nathan Clements was a runner-up in 2008, as Brand was this year.

Brand, who is from Rushford, was decisioned by Iowa Central Community College’s Phil Hawes 15-6. After his match, he said simply wished he’d been healthier this season. Two different injuries -- a torn tendon in his right index finger and a bad thumb sprain -- cost Brand more than half the season.

"Most of the kids in the finals have had 30-plus matches, and Parker came into the tournament with 10 matches," said Rager. "If he can stay healthy next season, anything is possible."

Indeed, Parker, like Clark, is a freshman. And he’s already looking ahead. Losing in the finals "will be motivation," he said. "I know I could have done a hell of a lot better if I would have wrestled all year."

As a team, RCTC scored 52 points at nationals. Nassau (N.Y.) Community College paced the non-scholarship division teams with 91.5 points.

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For complete NJCAA wrestling results, visit www.rochsports.org.

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