Iowa's Spencer Lee, UNI's Drew Foster book spots in NCAA wrestling finals

Hawkeyes have had a finalist for 30 straight seasons

G. Wyatt Schultz/The Predicament

Iowa's Spencer Lee (right) attempts to escape from Oklahoma State's Nick Piccininni du
G. Wyatt Schultz/The Predicament Iowa's Spencer Lee (right) attempts to escape from Oklahoma State's Nick Piccininni during the 125-pound semifinals of the NCAA Wrestling Championships last night at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
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PITTSBURGH — Blue-chipper and a blue collar.

Iowa’s Spencer Lee and Northern Iowa’s Drew Foster were on opposite ends of the spectrum coming into college.

Lee was an ultra-accomplished prep and highly-touted national recruit, winning three Pennsylvania state titles and three world championships. Foster, on the other hand, made one state finals appearance as a three-time medalist for Mediapolis.

Now, they will compete for a national title on the same stage. Lee and Foster recorded semifinal victories Friday night and advanced to championship matches at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at PPG Paints Arena.

Lee returns to the finals after winning the 125-pound crown last season. He earned a chance to repeat with an 11-4 victory over Oklahoma State’s second-seeded Nick Piccininni, handing the Cowboy his first loss of the season.

Lee also avenged a loss by pin in the regular-season dual finale. He beat Piccininni twice last year, including a pin in the national quarterfinals. The past wasn’t a factor.

“At this point, it’s the national tournament,” Lee said. “You can only wrestle who they put in front of you. It just so happened to be a rematch, but I just had to go out there, wrestle my hardest, and it just so happened that me and Nick wrestled here last year as well, so we’ve both wrestled on the big stage twice now.

“He’s a great opponent. Props to him. We wrestled a good match and we put on a good show.”


Lee set the tone early with the first shot and takedown for a 2-0 lead. He increased his lead to 5-1 in the second off an escape and immediate shot on the edge for a takedown. After a Piccininni reversal to pull within two, Lee earned an escape as time expired in the second.

Lee showed patience, working to finish his takedowns and to get away for the second escape.

“I just focused on the next score,” Lee said. “I couldn’t dwell upon how I felt or how he felt or what the clock was ticking down to or whatever.

“I didn’t know how much time was left when I went out there. I didn’t make a last-second explosion. I was working towards it the whole time because I knew I had to do something.”

Lee (22-3) advances to face Virginia’s fifth-seeded and unbeaten Jack Mueller (22-0) in the final. Mueller prevented a Lee rematch with Northwestern’s top-seeded Sebastian Rivera. Mueller beat Rivera 8-2 in the other semifinal. This will be the first college meeting between Lee and Mueller, a 2017 All-American who dropped from 133 last season.

“Now, the next big thing will be tomorrow,” Lee said. “Hopefully, we put on a good show.”

Iowa has had a finalist for 30 straight seasons. Lee will attempt to become the first Hawkeye to win two national crowns since Matt McDonough won in 2010 and 2012.

The Hawkeyes were denied two finalists when Nebraska’s No. 2 Tyler Berger upended sixth-seeded Kaleb Young, 5-3, in the 157 semifinals.

The Hawkeyes will finish with six All-Americans. Austin DeSanto won consecutive consolation matches to move into the top six at 133, majoring Iowa State’s Austin Gomez in the round of 12 and denying the Cyclone a spot on the podium.


Pat Lugo (149), top-seeded Alex Marinelli (165) and Jacob Warner (197) will wrestle for seventh Saturday.

Foster became UNI’s first finalist since Sean Stender was a runner-up at 197 in 2005, beating North Carolina’s Chip Ness 7-4 in the 184 semifinals. He has a shot at a national title, despite never winning a state championship.

“It’s fuel for the fire, and when you don’t get the accolades as a younger guy coming in, you have this chip on your shoulder like you want to prove something,” said Foster, who became UNI’s 25th two-time All-American. “You already know it inside of you and you have coaches that believe in you, but you want to prove it to everyone else and you want to prove it to yourself to let yourself know how high of a caliber athlete you are.

“From day one, (UNI assistant) Coach (Randy) Pugh believed in me and he helped put that self-belief in me and helped build on it throughout my five years here.”

Foster (27-5) broke open the semifinal bout in the second period after a scoreless first. After a Ness escape, Foster scored a takedown and then held Ness exposed for a quick count and two nearfall, taking a 4-1 lead.

“We kind of got in a roll-around and I got a takedown in back that ended up being the difference,” Foster said. “Those are situations we work on in practice, whether it’s a short-time go when you need to get a score or it’s a longer go. You put yourselves in those positions and even though you’re in practice you see Pittsburgh in your head.

“Our coaches do a great job of emphasizing that. I’m grateful for the practices that I’ve had and the coaches that prepared me to get those moves and put the points on the board in big matches.”

Foster was asked about UNI’s history and he knew immediately that the program’s last national champion was Tony Davis in 2000. He will face Cornell’s Max Dean, who upset Ohio State’s top-seeded NCAA champ Myles Martin in the semifinals. Dean (25-5) is 3-1 all-time against Foster, including a 6-5 decision in December.


“It’s always a good scrap, Max might be one of the strongest guys I’ve wrestled as far as strength goes and he’s a scrapper,” Foster said. “He’s going to scrap for seven minutes plus if he needs to. So I’m going out guns blazing. What do I have to protect? Right? I have this opportunity to represent my university, my teammates and my coaches and I’m going to run away with it.”

Foster will be joined on the podium by teammate Bryce Steiert. The three-time NCAA qualifier redshirted last season and came back to place at 165. He defeated Lehigh’s Gordon Wolf 10-2 to move into the top eight.

Iowa State matched UNI with two All-Americans.

Willie Miklus will tote home some hardware after an emotional couple weeks. The senior 197-pounder transferred to Iowa State from Missouri for his final season to be closer to his father, Garry, who battled ALS and died before the Big 12 Championships.

Miklus recorded a 28-second pin over Stanford’s Nathan Traxler to become a four-time All-American.

Jarrett Degen, the Cyclones’ lone qualifier a year ago, moved into the top eight at 149 with a win Friday night.

Former Gazette-area preps concluded their national tournament Friday. Former Western Dubuque two-time state champ and Purdue sophomore 184-pounder Max Lyon dropped a 12-2 major to Oklahoma State’s Dakota Geer. Lyon went 1-2 here, finishing with a 24-14 record this season.

Former Independence state champ Chase Straw also went 1-2, closing his tournament with a 3-2 loss to Lehigh’s No. 8 Josh Humphreys. The Big 12 157-pound champion ended with a 22-12 mark.

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