Iowa Hawkeyes

Megan Gustafson, Spencer Lee shine bright on sports-filled weekend

Ogden column: A special weekend for 2 Iowa athletes

Iowa senior Megan Gustafson smiles and she hugs (from left) guard Tania Davis and forward Hannah Stewart while celebrating their NCAA women’s basketball tournament win over Missouri. Gustafson’s joy is one of many things that sets her apart. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa senior Megan Gustafson smiles and she hugs (from left) guard Tania Davis and forward Hannah Stewart while celebrating their NCAA women’s basketball tournament win over Missouri. Gustafson’s joy is one of many things that sets her apart. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Like a lot of you. I spent the weekend watching a lot of sports.

To be honest, that’s not always the case. Being around sports all day, there are times it feels good to step away during a night at home or a weekend with family and friends.

But this past weekend is one of my favorites every year — the start of the women’s and men’s NCAA basketball tournaments and the three-day NCAA wrestling championships.

How can you stay away from that?

Here are some observations — albeit from afar — on what these old eyes saw:

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Megan Gustafson’s talent has been well-documented on these pages, and many others, during her remarkable career at the University of Iowa.

She makes scoring 25 points and pulling down 19 rebounds look so easy you often have to check the live box score just to see where she’s at during a game.

Watching her move in the post, run the floor and block out for a rebound can be mesmerizing.

But the thing I take away most from the performances I’ve seen is her joy, her pure joy of being on that court.

Gustafson doesn’t just talk about loving basketball, her teammates and coaches. She shows it with every step she takes, every smile on her face and every hug for those around her.

She looks like a little kid going to the candy store for the first time — every time she’s on the floor.

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I’ll echo what many of our readers noted in one of our recent “chatterbox” features — and what ESPNW already has acknowledged — and cry foul if Gustafson is not the national player of the year.

We tend to focus on what’s relevant to us, and athletes and teams in Eastern Iowa garner most, if not all, of our attention. But this has been a special season, and a special career, that deserves national recognition.

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Iowa sophomore wrestler Spencer Lee is, without a doubt, at his best when it matters the most.

The 5-foot-3, 20-year-old 125-pounder pushed his career record to 45-5 by winning his second NCAA title on Saturday in Pittsburgh.

As often is the case with wrestlers, especially ones like Lee, the five losses get more attention than the 45 wins. That’s a shame, but it’s part of the game in this sport.

Lee lost twice during the regular season, then fell to Northwestern’s Sebastian Rivera in the Big Ten finals. He went into the NCAAs seeded third for the second year in a row.

But, once again, Lee rose to the challenge when the stakes were at their highest. He outscored his five opponents last weekend, 55-7, collecting a technical fall, a pin and two major decisions — including an 11-4 win over Oklahoma State’s Nicholas Piccininni in the semifinals. Piccininni owned one of those two wins over Lee, by pin no less.

Lee then totally dominated Virginia’s Jack Mueller, 5-0, in the finals.

“We preach that — big-time wrestlers show up at big time matches,” Lee said.

Lee’s NCAA record is 10-0 with three pins, three technical falls and a two major decisions. He has outscored his two finals opponents, 10-1.

As Iowa Coach Tom Brands said after the second title, “Spencer Lee is a tough costumer.”

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A couple of other quick, and unexpected, take-aways from my sports-filled weekend were:

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l UNI’s Drew Foster won the 184-pound NCAA wrestling title as the No. 6 seed. A guy who never won a state high school title ended his collegiate career with two Big 12 championships and, now, an NCAA crown. Foster, obviously, had the talent as a prep — he won 167 career matches at Mediapolis — but blossomed his final three years in Cedar Falls, winning 85 of his final 102 matches.

l The “demise” of the Iowa men’s basketball was well documented after it lost five of its last six regular-season games and got crushed by Michigan in the Big Ten quarterfinals. But these Hawks proved resilient in a come-from-behind win over Cincinnati in a first-round NCAA game and almost pulled off the impossible in an 83-77 overtime loss to Tennessee after trailing by 25 in the first half. Iowa outscored Cincinnati and Tennessee, 91-58, in the second halves of its two NCAA games.

Both are examples that good things really do come to those who wait — and work their tails off,

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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