College Wrestling

Iowa's Spencer Lee ready to step into starting lineup

Freshman expected to provide lightweight spark for Hawkeyes

Spencer Lee during the team's annual media day Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at Carver-Hawkeyes Arena. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)
Spencer Lee during the team's annual media day Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at Carver-Hawkeyes Arena. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)
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IOWA CITY — Spencer Lee attended a University of Iowa home dual in junior high.

The longtime Hawkeye fan was with his club coach, Jody Strittmatter, a two-time All-American and Big Ten champion for Iowa in 2000 and 2001.

When Tony Ramos pinned his Penn State opponent and caused the Iowa crowd’s deafening roar that shook Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Lee began to imagine wrestling here for the Hawkeyes.

“It got so loud I couldn’t even hear myself think,” Lee said. “I was sitting next to my Young Guns coach. I told him I think I’d look good in black and gold.

“That’s pretty cool, though.”

Lee will get the opportunity he’s waited for since seventh grade. The freshman will come out of redshirt and make his official debut for the seventh-ranked Hawkeyes when they host Michigan State in a Big Ten Conference dual Friday at CHA, beginning at 7 p.m.

Lee’s status has garnered a lot more attention and created a buzz that Iowa Coach Tom Brands and his 125-pound phenom would have liked to avoid. Lee’s attitude and approach prevents it from being a distraction.

“He’s steady,” Brands said. “He knows that the No. 1 thing is getting ready for his performance. So, that’s where we’re at. He’ll be on the mat Friday night.”

Iowa has lost the lightest three weights in two duals this season. Lee is a major upgrade and has the potential to produce bonus points each time.

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“He can score lots of points and score them fast, turn guys over and pin them,” said Iowa 157-pounder All-American Michael Kemerer, who was high school teammates with Lee. “It’s awesome. I’m excited.”

Lee is the first wrestler in Brands’ tenure to start in his first year removed from high school. Lee had wrestled unattached last month, winning the UNI Open and placing sixth at the Midlands Championships.

Interestingly, many outsiders pointed to a Midlands title as the decisive factor and not a close loss to Oregon State’s Ronnie Bresser and forfeiting out of the consolation bracket. The setback wasn’t enough to keep Lee out of the lineup.

“I learned you have to wrestle your match and you have to go out there and score points,” Lee said. “You can’t wrestle not to lose. You have to wrestle to score points.”

The decision was made during Midlands before his technical fall victory over Edinboro’s All-American and then eighth-ranked Sean Russell. Lee said he had no hesitation and was in favor of the move.

“I just don’t think sitting on the bench is the best thing for me,” said Lee, a two-time Junior World champion, Cadet World champion and three-time Pennsylvania state titlist. “Maybe we could have pulled it earlier. I don’t know.

Iowa Coach Tom Brands on Spencer Lee


“That was a decision we were waffling back-and-forth. It’s done now. It’s a done deal. I’m just ready to wrestle.”

Discussions opened as early as the recruiting process. Lee said he expressed his desire to every coach recruiting him that he wanted redshirt moves to be a mutual decision. He has had talks with the staff since he reached campus.

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Sometimes they joked about it. They were serious at other moments. Lee said he wasn’t sure of the tone of a few other times. The subject was more serious as the season progressed.

“I think this is an ongoing process that one of our goals is to put our best team on the mat,” Brands said. “In order to do that, when there’s an option for a redshirt, we have to make sure that’s the best thing for the individual as well.”

An injury added another variable to the already difficult decision. Lee had surgery to repair a torn knee ligament after his senior prep season, keeping him off the mat until October. He has worn a big brace as they monitored how he looked, felt and moved forward.

“That’s probably the only thing that was a little bit different,” Brands said. “There’s really no hesitation except you want to make sure you do it right. There’s no rush in this sort of thing.”

Brands said in three short months Lee has already become a strong ambassador to the program. He added that Lee is a unique talent on the mat, a good student and good person.

“He reminds me of me, socially,” Brands said. “Not in wrestling. He would have whipped my tail if I was his age.”

Brands added, “He wrestles in all positions and he can score from all positions. That’s what we’ve got to have him doing.”

Lee said his knee is not a concern and he is “100 percent” fine. His confidence is high and Lee is unfazed by a stacked weight class that includes national champions Darian Cruz, of Lehigh, and Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello, Minnesota’s NCAA finalist Ethan Lizak and Rutgers’ Midlands champion and Penn State transfer Nick Suriano.

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“I don’t see why that matters,” Lee said. “You have to believe you can beat anyone on any given day, anywhere and anytime or else you’re in the wrong sport.”

Lee will face Spartans true freshman Rayvon Foley (18-3). He is ready to provide the spark at the bottom of the lineup the Hawkeyes desperately need.

Lee will fill a role that has been filled by notable Iowa lightweights like Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, Matt McDonough and even Strittmatter, who was a national runner-up at 125.

“Hopefully, I can follow in their footsteps,” Lee said. “I know Gilman, McDonough and my coach all did their part and their job. Hopefully, right now is my turn and I’m going to go out there and do my best.

“Like I said, go out and score points. This is an entertainment business. That’s what I’m going to be out here to do.”

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

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