Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa's Spencer Lee pins Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello in NCAA wrestling semifinals

True freshman will wrestle for national title; Iowa 3rd in team race

CLEVELAND — Iowa’s Spencer Lee went to bed Friday night with dreams of a national title remaining in his mind.

Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello, however, will likely have nightmares of Hawkeye lightweights.

Lee became Iowa’s first true freshman to reach the finals since 2002 and the third straight Hawkeye to do it at the expense of Tomasello, pinning the Buckeye in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Quicken Loans Arena.

The third-seeded Hawkeye followed in the steps of Thomas Gilman (2016) and 2017 NCAA champ Cory Clark, spoiling Tomasello’s quest for a second national crown. Lee, a three-time World freestyle champion, was energized by the atmosphere that surrounded the rubber match with the 2015 NCAA titlist.

“He’s an amazing opponent, nothing but respect for each other,” said Lee, the first true freshman finalist since Steve Mocco. “To be able to wrestle him on that big of a stage is almost an honor for me. But to do that with that many fans screaming and yelling, whether it’s against you or for you, it still excites you and it’s a lot of fun.”

Lee (21-2) ignited the crowd in the third, taking a 6-2 lead. He scrambled after a deep double-leg shot and came out on top of Tomasello, who surrendered neutral nearfall points. Lee adjusted and sat on Tomasello’s chest, sticking him flat in 6:05.

“I kind of stood up and I threw his leg off to cut the corner, and he held on hard. I was fighting like any competitor would do and I just, like, pulled his legs up and ran him over,” Lee said. “And I got the danger zone points.

“He wasn’t letting go and I just sat on it hard and ended up getting the fall.”

While Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands and assistant Ben Berhow celebrated in Lee’s corner. Iowa Coach Tom Brands was in the back, following on a monitor while helping senior Brandon Sorensen attempt to become the Hawkeyes’ 20th four-time All-American.

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“I saw some good things,” Brands said. “I saw him build the lead and then heard an eruption from our camp and it was a pin but I didn’t see it. Good job.”

The match was controlled by Lee, scoring his first takedown in three meetings with Tomasello this season, splitting the previous one-point matches. Lee rode Tomasello the rest of first period, similar to his win in the dual. In the final seconds of that frame, Tomasello was hit for stalling and Lee hit his patented tilt for two nearfall and a 4-0 lead with 1:42 of riding time.

“I believe the coaches were telling me put him down hard once you get takedown and they believed in my opportunity, my ability to be able to turn him and I believe in everything the coaches told me,” Lee said. “I went out there, executed what I believed was the right thing to do in that situation.”

Lee has been dominant all tournament, recording two technical falls Thursday and consecutive pins Friday. Lee opened the second day with a fall over Oklahoma State All-American and sixth-seeded Nick Piccininni in 3:58. He outscored his first four opponents, 55-3, in this tournament.

Iowa pulled Lee’s redshirt Jan. 5 and a little more than two months later he is in the national final in a loaded 125-pound bracket.

Watch Spencer Lee's semifinal pin


“If the coaches didn’t think I was ready I wouldn’t be here,” Lee said after the quarterfinal. “They believed I was ready. They believe in me. I believe in myself and believe in the work we’ve put in. It’s been fun so far.”

Lee will face Rutgers’ fourth-seeded Nick Suriano (25-0). The Scarlet Knights’ first national finalist beat Lehigh’s defending NCAA champion Darian Cruz, 2-0. The duo haven’t crossed paths since facing off as preps.

“Beat him my freshman year of high school,” Suriano said. “He beat me the next year. We trained a little bit in the summer at a camp. He was in my weight in Midlands. I know about him.”

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Fellow IOwa freshman Alex Marinelli didn’t fare as well, dropping a 5-2 decision to Illinois’ two-time NCAA champion and four-time finalist Isaiah Martinez. Marinelli surrendered a takedown in the first two periods and an escape in the third.

Marinelli secured a spot in the top six and All-American status with a 7-6 come-from-behind quarterfinal win over Rider’s No. 4 seed Chad Walsh. He fell behind, 4-1, in the first, but took over with a takedown and rideout in second. Marinelli added the decisive takedown with 1:12 to go in the third.

He’s turned things around since the Big Ten tournament.

“It’s more just feeling good,” Marinelli said. “My coaches are saying you’ve trained your whole life. You know how to wrestle. It’s about feeling good.”

Iowa has produced bonus points at a much greater clip than in recent years. The Hawkeyes have 28 1/2 bonus points, helping them hold on to third with 83 points.

The freshmen lead the way for five All-Americans. The Hawkeyes have had at least five All-Americans for five straight seasons. Sorensen (149), Michael Kemerer and heavyweight Sam Stoll won consolation matches to move into the top eight. The Hawkeyes went 6-1 in consolation competition Friday night.

“We’ve got our guys in position for placings (and) Spencer Lee is in the finals,” Brands said. “We had some guys get upset — Stoll and Sorensen. They came back strong. Then, you throw Kemerer in there and he came back strong.

“Kind of like we’re riding a wave with Lee and those three All-Americans and then you’ve got Marinelli, but he did a good job of moving forward. So, that’s where we’re at. We’re moving forward. We have another day tomorrow.”

Penn State vaulted Ohio State for the team lead, finishing with 120 1/2 points. The Nittany Lions had five finalists. The second-place Buckeyes went just 2-4 in the semifinals, tallying 109 1/2.

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Northern Iowa sophomore Jacob Holschlag has won five straight consolation matches, avenging an opening-round loss to Missouri’s Willie Miklus to move into the top six at 197.

Holschlag won consecutive one-point decisions, including a 3-2 win over Lehigh’s Chris Weiler to make the podium. He is much happier than a year ago, when he failed to win a match here.

“Waking up and looking at that 0-2 every day, I just wasn’t going to do that again,” Holschlag said. “No way in hell I was going 0-2 again. I’ve had a pretty good tournament so far.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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