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Clark seeks to cap off perfect season with state title

Ashton Clark, who was the state runner-up at 106 pounds at last year's state Class A tournament, was looking to advance to the finals at 113 pounds at this year's state Class AA tournament. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Ashton Clark was hoping to join Tyler Safratowich as Park Rapids' only three-time state wrestling champions.

A 3-0 loss to United South Central's Blake Legard in last year's state Class A 106-pound championship match prevented Clark from achieving that goal.

Clark used that loss as inspiration to chase another goal.

The Park Rapids junior entered his fourth state tournament hoping to become only the second Park Rapids wrestler to win a state title with an undefeated record. Mark Costello accomplished that feat by winning the state title at 103 pounds with a perfect 31-0 record in 1972.

Clark earned the No. 1 seed at 113 pounds entering this year's state Class AA tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul with a 35-0 record. Clark, who was rated No. 3 at 113 pounds in the latest state Class AA poll, qualified for state by capturing the Section 8AA title Feb. 24 at Hawley.

Clark coasted through the section tournament, pinning United Clay Becker sophomore Nathan Sperr in 2:35 in the quarterfinals, posting a 6-0 minor decision over Pierz sophomore Brandon Funk in the semifinals and recording a 7-2 minor decision over Detroit Lakes freshman Brody Ullyott in the championship match. Sperr ended the season with a 12-27 record, Funk finished at 26-15 and Ullyott carried a 27-14 record to state.

"I thought I could do it (win the section title). I beat (Ullyott) earlier this year, so I knew I had a good chance," said Clark, who has a 139-20 career record. "I planned on not losing a match all year. (Losing in the state finals last year) made me work harder. It showed me that there is always someone out there ready to beat me."

In his three previous appearances at the state Class A tournament, Clark lost both his matches at 106 pounds in 2015 while posting a 25-13 record in his varsity debut, finished fifth at 106 to cap off a 40-4 season in 2016 and lost in the championship match at 106 to end a 39-3 season.

Another strong field awaits Clark in his pursuit of perfection. Fairmont/Martin County West freshman Jason Rohman (44-2), Kasson-Mantorville senior Jared Johnson (39-3), Foley senior Nathan Garceau (30-3), Princeton eighth grader Zack Wells (37-5) and Hibbing junior Francis Fuenffinger (36-13) should provide the main challenges as Clark looks to take that next step and become a state champion while competing against Class AA competition. Rohman was the runner-up at 106, Johnson placed fourth at 113 and Garceau finished sixth at 106 at last year's state Class AA tournament.

"I hope to do better than last year," said Clark, who is seeking his third state medal. "I hope I can win it all this year. I think my chances are as good as they were last year. I have to stay positive, wrestle really well and this time finish it off."