116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Is this the best wrestling team the University of Iowa has taken to the NCAA Championships? Is Spencer Lee the best to ever put on a black-and-gold singlet?
These have been among the most asked and most pondered questions since last year's championships were canceled and Iowa was denied an opportunity to capture its first national title since 2010.
The answers, however, are not a simple yes or no. It's always fun to speculate, but until a team - or individual - gets the job done, it's an incomplete test and quest.
Is this the best team Iowa has ever assembled? It sure looks like it could be, given the fact it is 18-0 in duals the last two years and the winner of two straight Big Ten championships, the latest with 159.5 points - the most since the 1985 team scored 185.
That '85 team was pretty special, too. by the way. It was the second unbeaten dual team in Dan Gable's tenure, going 18-0. It had eight Big Ten champs - bettered only by the nine the 1983 team had and four more than this year's Hawks - and ended up with nine All-Americans, led by NCAA champions Barry Davis and Marty Kistler. Matt Egeland, Jim Heffernan and Duane Goldman were finalists.
And let's not forget Gable's last team at Iowa. The 1996-97 Hawkeyes scored a whopping 170 points in the NCAA championships at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, That team had five national champions - Jessie 'The Strongest Man in the World” Whitmer, Mark Ironside, Lincoln McIlravy, Joe Williams and Lee Fullhart - but amazingly had only two Big Ten titlists (Ironside and McIlravy) and lost to Oklahoma State in a dual.
If this year's team wants to be the greatest ever, does it need to top that NCAA-record 170 points and crown six champions?
That's the problem with comparisons. Wrestling is a different game today than it was in the 1980s and '90s. The Big Ten is better than it's ever been and, with fewer programs across the country, every team has better wrestlers than in the past.
This year's team certainly is among the best, most exciting squads in Hawkeye history and could be a contender for 'best ever” after this weekend.
But let's wait and see what happens.
There's no doubt Lee is a dominating wrestler, already winning two NCAA and two Big Ten titles. But Iowa has 17 two-time NCAA champions. It also has six three-time national titlists - Ed Banach, Davis, Jim Zalesky, Tom Brands, McIlravy and Williams.
It has zero four-time champions, something within Lee's grasp.
Someone on the 'Iowa Wrestling Fan Club” page on Facebook asked the Lee question on March 13. It received 146 comments as of Wednesday morning, Most took the 'wait-and-see” approach, but some brought up some interesting points, including:
'At the moment he is not. He very well could be someday. Ed banach, Lincoln, joe Williams, Barry Davis, and Tom Brands may be better.”
'... you forgot the guy who might be better than all those. Randy Lewis.”
'LEE ALL THE WAY !!! Nobody can even go a whole match with him. He is like none other !!!”
'... And there are a ton of people to choose from. Banachs's, Brands, Barry Davis, Zalesky, Both Williams brother, Lincoln, Ironside, that is just off the top of my head and I am not awake. I will say as of now, I have never seen any wrestler, Iowa or not do the thing Lee does, especially on top. And like the way he pinned Tomasello, I mean who does that, who could even do that. He is amazing. But his career isn't over.”
'Spencer is definitely in a class of his own. I absolutely love watching him. But, I think Mark Ironside was an absolute warrior!! So relentless in his attacks, counters, pace, you name it. Even if somebody beat him, they probably felt like they loss.”
The Banachs and Zalesky were before my time on the wrestling beat, but I would also mention Davis, Williams, Brands and McIlravy among the best I've seen. I'd also submit Ironside, as well as Royce Alger, Eric Juergens, Goldman, Kistler and Brent Metcalf.
After his sophomore season, McIravy looked like he'd wear that 'best ever” crown, but he lost in the NCAA finals his junior year. Still, he finished with a 96-3 record.
Zalesky went 79-0 his last two years, Williams lost just twice his last three years. Ironside was 100-2 his last three years and Goldman was a four-time NCAA finalist, but just a one-time champ. Brands went 158-7-2 in his four years, his win total just short of Davis' school-record 162.
Lee certainly is exciting and dominant, but Rico Chiaparelli, Brad Penrith and even Ray Brinzer were entertaining and a lot of fun to watch, too.
The list could go on and on.
So is Lee the best? Let's wait and see on that, too.
Comments: (319) 398-8416; email@example.com