IOWA CITY — Spencer Lee has been a special talent since the day he stepped foot in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex.
A three-time Pennsylvania state champion and Cadet World champion, he came to the University of Iowa wrestling program with sky high expectations.
He hasn’t disappointed.
He’s a two-time NCAA champion who has won 59 of his 64 career matches. He’s 14-0 this year and is on track to win his third national title. He has Olympic aspirations and, in December, won the U.S. Senior National title at 125 pound, qualifying for the Trials.
But to Iowa Coach Tom Brands, Lee is so much more than a sparkling record.
“This guy’s got a different mind, this Spencer Lee guy,” Brands said at his weekly news conference. “Very focused, selfish in the right way. But also a very good coaching mind.”
And a very good ambassador for wrestling and Iowa.
“We want him in front of our recruits,” Brands said, noting he’s received emails from Lee’s professors about the type of student he is. “We want him involved in every aspect of the program.
“He carries a big stick and he clears a wide path in the positives that he does.”
The top-ranked Hawkeyes (12-0) wrap up their regular season Sunday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena against an old nemesis, No. 9 Oklahoma State (13-2). The dual starts at 7 p.m. and will be televised on BTN.
Lee will meet fourth-ranked Nick Piccininni (23-1) in the featured bout. Lee is 3-1 against his Cowboy rival, but that one loss was by pin in last year’s dual.
It’s the only dual loss in Lee’s Hawkeye career.
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Lee, however, kept things in perspective, brushed off the loss almost immediately and beat Piccininni, 11-4, a few weeks later at the NCAA Championships.
“When you lose, you’ve got to find a way to improve,” Lee said. “It wasn’t the national finals. It wasn’t the Big Ten finals. It wasn’t the Olympic Trials. It wasn’t really an important match.
“It’s over and we have to move on to the next best thing.”
Brands said Lee continues to improve, continues to find ways to become an even better wrestler — and person.
“From a year ago until now, there is a lot of progress with maturing on the mat,” Brands said. “He’s progressed a lot in a lot of different ways, too — ways that you might not see as fans because you don’t see him on the mat very long. But you do see it in the practice room. You see it in his life, too.”
The Hawkeyes are expected to be at full strength Sunday with Abe Assad back in the lineup at 184. All 10 Hawkeyes are ranked in the top nine nationally.
The Cowboys also have No. 3 Boo Lewallen at 149 and No. 7 Travis Wittlake at 165. Lewallen (18-1) will meet No. 4 Max Murin (11-1), Wittlake (25-1) gets No. 2 Alex Marinelli (16-1).
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