IOWA CITY — Spencer Lee was about 8 years old when he met Dan Hodge.
They posed for a picture together at a national tournament in Tulsa, Okla. One wrestling legend with an up-and-comer, who has produced a legendary career of his own.
Seems fitting that Iowa’s two-time NCAA champion would earn the trophy named for the incomparable Hodge.
Lee was officially awarded WIN Magazine’s Hodge Trophy during a news conference Tuesday at the McCord Indoor Club of the Kinnick Stadium press box. The annual honor that began in 1995 is presented to the most outstanding college wrestler. Lee becomes the third Hawkeye to win the award, joining Mark Ironside (1998) and Brent Metcalf (2008).
“It was an honor just to be nominated,” said Lee, who received the trophy from the award’s creator and former WIN and Gazette sports editor Mike Chapman. “I’m humbled to have won.”
Lee became the first wrestler to win the Hodge Trophy and the AAU James E. Sullivan award, given to the nation’s top amateur athlete. He also is the last wrestler to win the award, while the three-time undefeated Oklahoma national champion was alive. Hodge died on Christmas Eve at the age of 88.
He also stockpiled accolades, earning Big Ten Conference and InterMat Wrestler of the Year and NCAA Division I Most Dominant Wrestler awards. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from capping the tremendous season with his third national crown.
“I’m not going to say I didn’t deserve the Hodge Trophy, but I’m also the only one that won the Hodge that didn’t win a national title,” Lee said. “Think about that, right? I’m hoping to win it next year, win the national title (and) earn it this time in my mind.
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“Not to say I didn’t deserve it or whatnot, but in my head, it’s iffy because I might be the last one in Dan Hodge’s name. Wish I could have won it next year and shook his hand.”
Most seasons end in debate as to which wrestler is the most deserving. The criteria include record, pins, dominance, past credentials, quality of competition, sportsmanship and citizenship and heart. Lee checked all the boxes to the point he was an overwhelming favorite with 51 of 56 first-place votes.
Top-ranked Lee was 18-0 at 125 pounds, scoring bonus points in all but one match. He posted four first-period pins and nine technical falls. Lee throttled opponents by a combined point total of 234-18. Opponents may not like what awaits as Lee attempts to become the fifth wrestler to receive the award more than once.
“You could argue that Spencer Lee is better than he’s ever been,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “That’s a scary thing. He has to go out and prove that, show that off.”
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