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Undefeated: Joe Clark is on a Mission

Oakland Mills' senior Joe Clark saw his goal personified during a recent practice in the form of a muscular Jaron Smith, who graduated in 2015 as the last man to become one of the Scorpions' three two-time state champions.

"Obviously Joe is the most successful wrestler on this team right now," said Smith, winner of Class 2A-1A state titles in 2014 and 2015 before moving on to the University of Maryland. "Joe has a lot of good technique, but it’s a matter of him keeping that pace up for six straight minutes straight and to rack up points the entire time.”

Ranked third by Legacy Wrestling with a record of 32-0 with 23 pins and five technical falls, Clark can earn the Scorpions' 25th individual state title and the 10th under 26th-year coach Brad Howell.

The Class 2A-1A state tournament will take place at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro on the weekend of March 1-2 – two weeks after this weekend’s Howard County Tournament at Wilde Lake High.

Howell has coached Smith as well as three-time state champion Tony Farace (2009-2011) and two-time title winner Robert Scott (2000-2001). Howell's other individual champions were Sidique Furet in 2015 and Daiquan Anderson in 2017.

A stocky 17-year-old who stands 5-foot-7, Clark is the highest-ranked public school wrestler at 165 pounds behind Legacy Wrestling No. 1-rated two-time Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and Maryland Independent Schools champion junior Emmitt Sherlock of Gilman and No. 2-rated two-time Interstate Athletic Conference title winning junior Sepanta Ahanj-Elias of Bullis.

Clark already is committed to Edinboro University, where he has been in touch with three-time Class 2A-1A state champion Jacob Brenneman, a 2023 graduate of Northern-Garrett.

A year ago, Clark dethroned Glenelg’s senior Class 2A-1A state runner-up Ethan Sotka, 4-2, for the county title. A week later, Clark earned an overtime, 6-5 title match victory over Sotka in the Class 2A-1A West Regionals.

Clark went 3-1 with a fall at states, where he lost his title bout by technical fall to three-time state champion, AJ Rodrigues of South Carroll, now a freshman at Maryland. Clark pinned his first opponent in 3:33 before winning his quarterfinal and semifinal bouts by decisions of 13-9, and 9-5.

Clark considers his biggest victory of the season being that over North Point's ninth-ranked Dominick Cady, a senior who placed third in last year's Class 4A-3A state tournament at 170 pounds.

“Joe is beating everyone he’s faced, but now it’s about wrestling even more consistently,” Smith said. “I’m more oriented to Joe sealing up the cracks against the guys who have wrestled him close. It’s about expanding the gap where it already exists, being physical and carving a hole in someone’s game that maybe wasn’t there before.”

Clark spoke to Legacy Wrestling in this Q&A.

Legacy Wrestling (LW): When and where did you begin wrestling?

Joe Clark (JC): My Dad’s in the military so I moved around. I started wrestling when I was about six years old in California. I won a junior league title in Colorado when I was 10 or 11 years old.

I came here to Maryland in sixth grade, and during my eighth-grade year in Maryland I took third at junior league states. I played a lot of sports growing up, like water polo, rugby and football. Once I got to high school, it was all about wrestling.

LW: Can you discuss your injury-shortened sophomore season?

JC: I actually ended up injuring my hip during the first round of the regional duals and it put me out for the season. In the regional tournament, a guy that I beat won my region.

I ended up getting third in the regions after losing in the first round to a kid that I shouldn’t have lost to and that was the year that you had to finish within the top two of regions to go to states. It sucked watching from the stands.

LW: Can you discuss what amounts to your career turning point in your series with Ethan Sotka of Glenelg, against whom you were 2-1?

JC: I lost to him during a dual meet, 3-1. We were tied at 1-1, and he had gotten in deep on a double-leg and I was trying to funk-roll out of it. I got caught on my back for a second too long, and they gave him quick two near-fall points with about three seconds left on the clock.

My mentality after that match was that, 100 percent, I could get him the next time. It was just about the mental things, wrestling the full six minutes and not just five minutes and 50 seconds but staying focused during the match the entire time.

LW: So, what happened against Ethan Sotka the second time?

JC: The second time we wrestled was in the county finals, and when I get to my underhook, I feel like I can score on anybody. I made it a point to get to my underhook and I was able to score a takedown within the first 10 seconds and I beat him, 4-2.

I went from not being able to score a single takedown in the dual meet to getting my takedown within the first 10 seconds in the county finals. If I am able to dictate the way that I want to wrestle, I can beat anybody, public or private.

LW: Now how about the third time in the regional finals?

JC: The third time in the regional finals I won, 6-5, in overtime. I was being a little more patient and maybe giving him too much respect. Looking back at the match, I should have pushed my offense earlier.

That match really didn’t need to go into overtime. But on the other hand, that was a good mental battle for me, challenging me to remain composed and winning that match. That ended up giving me a lot of confidence.

LW: What are your thoughts on your state tournament and the eventual runner-up finish?

JC: I feel like the state tournament last year was the worst tournament that I wrestled out of my entire season. I showed up to Show Place Arena, physically, but my mind was still back at my house.

There were matches that were close that shouldn’t have been close. I gave up takedowns that I shouldn’t have given up. I wasn’t fully into the matches. But I learned a lot from losing to AJ Rodrigues and getting teched in the finals.

AJ and I were actually practice partners for Fargo during the year leading up to our school year. Losing to him that way made me upset. That was probably my biggest embarrassment of my whole high school career. It made me hungrier.

LW: How did you feed that hunger?

JC: I spent a lot of the offseason training. I was with Emmit Sherlock a lot. I was just trying to get better. I didn’t wrestle the best that I could at states, but getting teched by AJ in the state finals, looking back, I really needed that.

LW: Who has been your most difficult opponent and biggest victory of the season this year?

JC: I would say Dominick Cady of North Point. We hosted the Scorpion Duals Tournament earlier this year and I beat him, 3-0.

I rode him well from the top position and he didn’t get off bottom. I scored on a go behind, but I could have pushed my offense a little more.

LW: What’s your perspective on being the highest-ranked public school wrestler at 165 pounds?

JC: I try not to pay too much attention to the rankings. Last year, that was another big factor, just looking at them all the time. Man, I just love to wrestle, and I don’t care what day it is or who I’m wrestling.

I just try to approach it like, ‘I’m going to wrestle. I’m going to score points, and I’m going to have fun.’ The rankings will work themselves out when the season comes to an end.

LW: What is your mindset right now heading into the county, region and state tournaments?

JC: I’m blessed to actually have Jaron Smith helping me out and he’s just making me a lot better. I’m being elevated to the next level. It doesn’t matter if I’m wrestling a kid from Wilde Lake or Emmitt Sherlock.

I want to wrestle the full six minutes and to do it to the best of my abilities. I want to dominate. I want to wrestle for the full six minutes and to score as many points as possible.

LW: Are you planning to wrestle in college?

JC: I have actually committed to Edinboro University three weeks ago. Jacob Brenneman is up there, and he was showing me around during my visit. I’m really excited to go up there and to be a Fighting Scot.

Wrestling is the only division I program at Edinboro, and it’s a great environment because everyone loves the sport there and everyone wants to get better. I really like it out there and I’m looking to do some big things there.

I really did need that loss in the state finals. All respect to AJ Rodrigues, but when Edinboro and the University of Maryland wrestle in a couple of years it’s going to be a different match.

Oakland Mills' state champions

Three-time champions

Tony Farace

Jeff Rosenberg

Two-time champions

Robert Scott

Monte Spencer

Jaron Smith

24 individual state championships

1979 Tim Elder 98 pounds

1980 Arnold Sing 138 pounds

1982 Brian Boyle 126 pounds

1982 Vincent Thomas 167 pounds

1982 Mike Bennett 185 pounds

1986 Jeff Rosenberg 112 pounds

1986 Jarrett Johnson 119 pounds

1986 Scott Hunt 126 pounds

1986 Darrell Gough 155 pounds

1987 Jeff Rosenberg 126 pounds

1988 Jeff Rosenberg 132 pounds

1988 Quinton Gough Hwt

1991 Monte Spencer 275 pounds.

1992 Monte Spencer 275 pounds.

1994 Juri Freeman 103 pounds

2000 Robert Scott 275 pounds

2001 Robert Scott 275 pounds

2009 Tony Farace 103 pounds

2010 Tony Farace 112 pounds

2011 Tony Farace 112 pounds

2014 Jaron Smith 160 pounds

2015 Sidique Furet 170 pounds

2015 Jaron Smith 182 pounds

2017 Daiquan Anderson 106 pounds

Female champion

2023 Jada Fowler 120 pounds

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