College Wrestling

Hlas: With Spencer Lee and more, Iowa wrestling may get big again

Freshmen Lee, Alex Marinelli put winning jolts into Iowa wrestling

IOWA CITY — Rayvon Foley picked a bad night to weigh 125 pounds.

The Michigan State wrestler came to Carver-Hawkeye Arena Friday night with an 18-3 record, but with 8,486 fans expecting and wanting to see him be the designated victim all the same. His 125-pound match against fellow true freshman Spencer Lee indeed was a squash, with Lee doing the squashing in his Carver-Hawkeye Arena debut.

Lee took Foley down 34 seconds into their match and pinned him 12 seconds later. It’s what a lot of Hawkeye fans had been waiting for since the day they heard the prodigy from Murrysville, Pa., had committed to Iowa.

Having Lee open the dual was like NASCAR starting its season with its premier event, the Daytona 500. Which it does. But this was like Daytona being a one-lap race.

On the other hand, Lee steering his team to a fast 6-0 lead is the best possible way to open any dual.

“I think that’s always been the idea,” Lee said, “that 125 starts out with a bang and the momentum continues throughout the rest of the weights.”

After the pin, Lee hopped up and gave a slight nod like he had been there before. Which he had, just not in a college match. He had won three state high school championships in Pennsylvania and three junior world championships.

The future for Iowa wrestling, since Hawkeyes Coach Tom Brands took the redshirt off Lee and put him in his lineup, is now.

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Iowa needs this, needs a jolt of something so full of dominant promise from an individual. The Hawkeyes have faded in recent years, not seriously making runs at the NCAA team championships that have been won by Penn State in six of the last seven years. They haven’t been full of the winning-driven swagger that had once been ingrained in the program.

Spencer Lee and Alex Marinelli on Carver-Hawkeye Arena debuts


Now there’s Lee. And sophomore Michael Kemerer, who is 13-0 this season after pinning his opponent Friday in Iowa’s 49-6 rout. And redshirt freshman Alex Marinelli, 7-0 after a 23-5 win for a technical fall.

“Second-best thing,” said Marinelli, a four-time Ohio state prep titlist who was voted the Champion of Champions at the previous weekend’s Midlands Championships by his fellow first-place finishers.

“We’re expected to do great things. When I don’t pin my guy, I get frustrated. This guy (Lee) does, too.”

Michigan State isn’t one of the Big Ten teams that helps draw crowds to Carver. But no marquee foe was needed this night with Iowa letting it be loudly and clearly known last week that Lee was wrestling Friday.

The fans got a thrill out of his quick work, but … “I told Spencer after his match that I wanted to see a little bit more,” said Marinelli. “I’m sure everyone else did.

“This guy, he was born to be a champion. I’m born to be a champion. All these people on my team are born to be a champion.”

That may be overselling things. But Brands and his staff certainly have raised their recruiting games in the last couple years.

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“We’re recruiting some guys and getting some guys like (redshirted freshman Jacob) Warner and Lee and Kemerer that are in that category,” Brands said. “(Heavyweight) Sam Stoll, even. He was a phenom, a blue-chip, top 20-ranked.”

“We’re just young guys,” said Marinelli, “but we’re elite. We’ve been there. We’ve been to all the national tournaments and we know how to wrestle.”

Iowa’s next dual is against Oklahoma State a week from Sunday. The Cowboys are old rivals and an excellent team, as usual.

“Carver-Hawkeye is going to be packed,” Marinelli said. “This is where it starts.”

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