Iowa Hawkeyes

Spencer Lee's season in review: From 'free the Lee' to national champion

Iowa's Spencer Lee wresltes Purdue's Luke Welch in a 125-pound second-round match at the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, March 15, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa's Spencer Lee wresltes Purdue's Luke Welch in a 125-pound second-round match at the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, March 15, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Spencer Lee became the first Iowa true freshman to win a national title since Lincoln McIlravy in 1993.

Earlier this season, there were questions about whether he’d even be competing this week at the NCAA Tournament in Cleveland.

Lee came to Iowa as a highly-touted recruit with a Cadet and two Junior freestyle world titles in tow, to go with three Pennsylvania state titles. But Iowa was considering redshirting him as he was coming off offseason surgery to repair an ACL torn in the middle of his senior year.

After Lee beat Rutgers’ Nick Suriano 5-1 to capture the 125-pound national title Saturday night, let’s take a look back at his freshman year.

First action

Lee made his collegiate debut as an unattached wrestler at the UNI Open on Dec. 9. He cruised to the 125-pound open division title with a technical fall and two first-period pins, showing signs of things to come.

Free the Lee

By the time the Midlands rolled around, Iowa fans were clamoring for Tom Brands and company to “free the Lee” from his redshirt.

“Free the Lee, but you know what,” Brands teased media before the tournament. “Lee’s like Houdini, so he can free himself.”

What did that mean?

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“I have no idea,” Lee responded. “I think maybe he means I control my own destiny. Go with that.”

Lee was dominant on the first day in Chicago, but lost in the semifinals 3-1 to Oregon State’s Ronnie Bresser.

Lee is free

Iowa announced during the week before a Jan. 5 home dual against Michigan State that Lee would get the nod at 125 pounds.

The redshirt was about to be shed.

“This seemed like the best time,” Lee said. “We don’t want to wait. There’s no point in waiting. Might as well go out there, get some matches in and wrestle in a Hawkeye singlet.”

 

 

A dominant debut

Lee’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena debut lasted 46 seconds.

He provided a jolt for the fan base with a pin of Rayvon Foley in less than a minute.

“I told Spencer after his match, I wanted to see a little more and I’m sure everyone else did,” teammate Alex Marinelli said that night. “This guy was born to be a champion, I’m born to be a champion, and all these people on my team are born to be champions. When that time comes they’re going to seize the moment and get the fall. As a whole, it was a great performance.”

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Big Ten stumble

Ohio State national champion and now four-time All-American Nathan Tomasello got the best of Lee in the Big Ten semifinals with a 3-2 win.

It was revenge for the Iowa-Ohio State dual earlier this season, a bout Lee won 2-1. Lee rallied to third place in the conference and set the stage for the NCAA Tournament.

One down

Lee was dominant at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, posting two technical falls in the first two rounds and pins in the quarterfinals and semifinals. One of those pins came against Tomasello, as Lee became the third straight Hawkeye to end the Buckeye’s title hopes.

He capped it off by handing Suriano his first loss of the season and finished 22-2, leading the Hawkeyes to third place as a team.

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Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.