IOWA CITY — Iowa’s Spencer Lee produced an impressive campaign with unmatched dominance this season.
The two-time NCAA champion was denied the opportunity to win a third and remain on course to become the Hawkeyes’ first four-time national titlist when the NCAA canceled its winter and spring championships due to the coronavirus pandemic.
His special junior season has garnered plenty of recognition and solace will have to accompany college wrestling’s top honor.
Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine announced Monday that Lee was voted the recipient of the Hodge Trophy, awarded to the nation’s most dominant wrestler. He becomes the third Hawkeye to claim the honor, joining former Cedar Rapids Jefferson prep Mark Ironside (1998) and Brent Metcalf in 2008.
“I was excited and it was the next best thing for me,” Lee said about learning he had won. “I couldn’t win my third national title, so I’m happy that I was able to reach a silver lining within all the crazy times of the world.”
Lee has hoarded individual awards this season. He was named most dominant wrestler in NCAA Division I, posting an 18-0 record. Lee was named Big Ten Wrestler of the Year and claimed his first conference tournament crown. He was also named InterMat’s Wrestler of the Year and a finalist for the AAU James E. Sullivan award, presented to the most outstanding amateur athlete over the last year.
Numbers were staggering this season. Lee notched 17 bonus-point victories, including four pins, nine technical falls and four major decisions. It was the most technical falls by a Hawkeye since 1999. He outscored opponents by a total of 234-18.
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“A lot of times dominant wrestlers play with their opponent like a cat plays with a mouse,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said in the WIN Magazine news release. “Spencer is not that way. He’s a ferocious competitor. He wants to get off the mat in as efficient, quick and lopsided of way as possible. The thing that has made him better this year is he is willing to get outside his comfort zone, like finding openings off takedowns into turns to blow matches open.”
Lee received 52 of 57 first-place votes from the Hodge committee, which is the most by any Hodge winner since its start in 1995. Ohio State’s Kollin Moore nabbed three first-place votes, while Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin and Stanford’s Shane Griffith had one each.
Lee also won the fan vote, receiving 15,576. In comparison, West Virginia’s Noah Adams had the next highest tally with 3,865.
“It entails what we preach, right?” Lee said about Iowa’s dominant approach. “I won in a pretty majority fashion. Dominated, I guess you could say. That was cool.”
This was expected to be a banner year with a chance for another NCAA crown, a spot in the Olympic Trials to vie for a chance to compete at the now-postponed Olympic Games in Tokyo and make a run for an Olympic medal.
Lee opted to wrestle for Iowa with hopes of a national team title instead of taking an Olympic redshirt, which would have kept two years of eligibility intact.
“It’s hard to swallow when you try to do the right thing and you get punished for it,” Lee said. “What can you do about it? If I’m a three-timer I’m a three-timer. At least I know if I win three then I know I did everything I could and I could live my life with no regrets. There’s something to be said about that rather than have regrets.”
The three-time World freestyle champion and three-time Pennsylvania state titlist said he was humbled to join the list of Hodge winners. The elite group also includes Iowa State’s three-time winner Cael Sanderson, Ohio State’s Logan Stieber, Cornell University’s Kyle Dake, Penn State’s two-time winner Zain Retherford and the inaugural recipient T.J. Jaworsky of North Carolina.
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“It’s a way to distance yourself from the pack, I guess,” Lee said. “It’s pretty special to be named the Hodge Trophy winner. It was an honor. I’m happy I represented my university in a good light and represent my team, friends and everything. It was fun.”
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