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Iowa’s Spencer Lee demonstrates dominance during recent pin streak entering dual with No. 1 Penn State
The Hawkeyes’ top-ranked 125-pounder has won 48 straight matches
IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Coach Tom Brands offered a bold declaration.
Brands has been immersed in wrestling his entire life. He followed and studied the world’s best with aspirations of being an Olympic champion, wrestled with some of the sport’s greats as a competitor and he has coached some of wrestling’s elite. Don’t forget that he and his twin brother, Terry, ranked among those all-time top performers.
Add in that Brands isn’t one for faux praise and his assessment of Spencer Lee is especially noteworthy.
“I haven’t seen anybody better, ever,” Brands said during Tuesday’s weekly news conference at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “I’m talking my heroes when I was young. The current guys that are winning titles for the United States, because we have a powerhouse team right now. You can go back to those Russians — (two-time Olympic champion Segei) Belaglosov, (World and Olympic champion Arsen) Fadzaev — and that’s not an overstatement.”
Lee’s resume speaks for itself, including three World age-level championship, three NCAA championships and two Hodge Trophy awards. The top-ranked 125-pounder has wowed Iowa fans again, extending his win streak to 48 matches with six straight pins leading into second-ranked Iowa’s dual at No. 1 Penn State Friday night at Bryce Jordan Center.
“For me, it’s one match at a time,” said Lee. “Once that match is over, you focus on the next match. You go out there and do what you do best, wrestle hard, and wrestle smart, stay in good position and if pins come then you take them.”
Lee has always been dominant since a 46-second pin over Michigan State’s Rayvon Foley in his official and Carver-Hawkeye Arena debut. He has 76 bonus-point victories with 33 pins and 29 technical falls, despite stepping into the lineup less than a year removed from a high school knee injury, wrestling with another anterior cruciate ligament tear as a sophomore and winning his third title with two torn ACLs.
Amazingly, he is only about 59 weeks removed from having both knees surgically repaired and still is slicing up opponents like a scalpel. He continues to win over followers and even mainstream sports fans.
“I think the way that he pops, the way that he’s getting better,” Brands said. “I mean he is better this year than he’s been his entire career.
“The progress and when that’s happening and you don’t level off or stagnate, people want to keep watching. It’s like anybody that’s great. When they keep getting better, you get more heads turning your way, more admirers. Even if there are haters, they’re paying attention.”
Brands’ comments about his current level were welcome.
“Awesome. I’m glad to hear that,” said Lee, who is 10-0 this season and 88-5 in his career. “I’m always going to be hard on myself so I always think I have a lot of room to improve. Hopefully, I continue improving throughout the season and feeling better than ever.
“That’s kind of the goal for me to keep feeling good, keep scoring points and trying to get off the mat as fast as possible, if that’s what I can do. If not, I have to wrestle seven minutes and more, if needed, just like we always say.”
Big Ten Network has reached out to Brands to confirm that Lee is wrestling to make sure it didn’t miss his matches, if preceding programming runs long. It is even more applicable for his final season. A sign of how he is appreciated by various sports fans.
“They want to make sure they capitalize on that and that’s a tribute to him,” Brands said. “Hence, he’ll capitalize on that.”
Lee entered the program with extreme expectations from a demanding Hawkeye fan base. He has more than delivered with humility and consistency.
“He’s a humble guy, for the most part,” Brands said. “He almost apologizes when the true fire comes out of him.
“He’s an incredible, competitive man. Whatever is inside of him that’s keeping that fire going is unique. It’s rare.”
During his time he overcame injury, Lee had to learn what worked and what didn’t due to physical limitations. He said it was the hard, but fun, part of the process.
“It showed me, as a wrestler, you can learn to adapt and change your style anytime in your career,” Lee said. “It doesn’t matter, but you can continue to improve in those positions, even without being able to do things you were able to do before and you can learn more about yourself with your inabilities that come to fruition. Then, see how tough you really are.”
The latest string of victories has yielded two straight Big Ten Wrestler of the Week honors, which is his sixth all-time. Much has been said about the opponents during the recent streak. At the time of their matches, Lee’s last four opponents were ranked Nos. 6, 7, 3 and 9.
“I don’t think Spencer pays much attention to anything other than what he does best,” Brands said. “Again, another tribute to his approach.”
Rankings are more for fans and pundits to discuss than for wrestlers to dissect. Each and every foe is a serious threat, regardless of how they are projected in a weight class, when a pin can neutralize everything. All things are equal when it is just two wrestlers in the center of the mat when the officials blows the first whistle.
“It’s a fight, so it doesn’t matter if the guy is No. 1 in the country or if he’s from a different country,” Lee said. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care because at the end of the day you have to go out there and do your job.
“I’m going to wrestle the position to score points and try to improve my position. That’s the only thing I’m thinking about in the middle of the match. Just improving position and putting points on the board.”
Iowa (12-0, 5-0) needs more of Lee’s magic against Penn State (10-0, 3-0). The probable lineups consist of 19 ranked wrestlers. The lone unranked wrestler is Lee’s opponent, Gary Steen (5-9).
“We’ve got to be consistent,” Brands said. “We’ve got to be healthy and we have to be about the right things, getting ready for our matches. Our guys get ready for their match they’re pretty good.”