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Wrestling Weekend That Was: Iowa fans get first look at Spencer Lee

Observations in wrestling for Dec. 8-10

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)

Iowa had some memorable and long awaited debuts. A pair of prep wrestlers delivered the marquee match that many expected. Brock Rathbun is honored in the wrestling weekend that was.

Lee is free

Well, not really, but Iowa wrestling fans had their first look at Spencer Lee in action unattached for the Hawkeyes. Lee, less than nine months removed from surgery to repair a torn knee ligament, competed at the UNI Open on Saturday.

The Cadet and two-time Junior World freestyle and three-time Pennsylvania state champion dominated the 125-pound open division, posting a technical fall and two first-period pins. He faced wrestlers from Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota, decking Gophers reserve Skyler Petry in 2:53 for the championship.

Lee told flowrestling.com after the tournament that the knee felt as good as new. He said the brace that he wears to protect his knee is bulky, but coaches insist he wears it to avoid any further injury. It sure didn’t affect him, putting up a 16-point shutout against Dack Punke of Mizzou.

Now, talk will turn to whether or not he’ll join the Iowa lineup, which has freshman Justin Stickley in there. A healthy Lee is a title contender and we’ll get a better answer after the Midlands Championships later this month.

But, highly-touted freshmen in their redshirt seasons are like backup quarterbacks. Fans clamor for their insertion into the lineup, deeming them the cure to problems. We’ve seen it with Derek St. John, Brody Grothus, Brandon Sorensen, Michael Kemerer and Alex Marinelli in the past. Lee and classmate Jacob Warner (197) are next in the inevitable “let them wrestle” campaign.

Besides Grothus, the others have a chance to be four-time All-Americans. St. John, Sorensen and Kemerer don’t have an NCAA finish lower than fifth. Regardless, Lee’s career has started (unofficially) the way many expected from the wrestling phenom.

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Alex Marinelli's debut

Iowa freshman Alex Marinelli made his debut in the Hawkeyes’ lineup this weekend. What a debut it was. Marinelli faced Rutgers’ Richie Lewis, ranked fourth at 157 and coming off his U23 World freestyle title, bumped up to 165 to face the four-time Ohio state champion. Marinelli won, 6-4, scoring a takedown in sudden victory-1.

Many fans have anxiously awaited Marinelli to compete and he didn’t disappoint.

“That kid did a really good job of getting after it,” Rutgers Coach Scott Goodale said about Marinelli in the post-meet news conference. “The whole time ... it was attack after attack after attack and that wears on you.”

Tom Brands commented on Marinelli’s performance as well, “Tough win. Attacked the whole time, wrestled 420 seconds and actually more than that because it was an overtime takedown.”

Like Lee, this was a long time coming and he didn’t disappoint, recording a first-period pin in his next match Sunday at Maryland.

Well worth the trip

Former Lisbon four-time state champion Carter Happel made his own debut for the Hawkeyes this weekend. The 141-pounder dropped his opening bout at Rutgers, but followed it with an 8-7 victory over Maryland’s Ryan Diehl, who is ranked as high as 11th nationally.

Happel has some familiar faces in the crowd. His parents, Dean and Dawn Happel, drove to New Jersey and to Maryland to his first official Big Ten win, using a takedown in the final 25 seconds and riding time for the decision.

“In the third period I knew I could get to my high crotch or single because I could feel him gassing,” Happel said. “I wrestled seven minutes hard, he tired out, and I got a takedown in the end. My confidence is up, but it always has to be up. It can’t be down. You’re going to have up and downs throughout the season so you have to keep moving forward.”

Prep classic

Fort Dodge’s Brody Teske and Underwood’s Alex Thomsen are two of the best wrestlers in Iowa history, looking to join the elite class of four-time state champions. It’s almost a given they will be Nos. 26 and 27. Both had a chance to be added to the six wrestlers who finished their careers unbeaten.

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Only Teske has that chance after the two met in the 126-pound final of the Council Bluffs Classic on Saturday. Teske, a Penn State commit, used a takedown with 10 seconds left to top Thomsen, a Nebraska commit, 11-9, in the only meeting of unbeaten three-time Iowa state champs. The match lived up to the hype.

Rathbun's wrath

Former Center Point-Urbana three-time state champ and former Iowa wrestler Brock Rathbun wrestled 141 for Wartburg Friday in a 45-3 dual win at Cornell.

Rathbun defeated ninth-ranked Josh Martin, 5-2, handing Martin his first NCAA Division III loss and earning Iowa Conference Wrestler of the Week honors.

Steiert claims gold

UNI’s Bryce Steiert has been a key component to the Panthers’ starting lineup the last two seasons, but red-shirted this season. The junior two-time NCAA qualifier still is on the mat, winning the 157-pound title at the UNI Open on Saturday.

He was one of nine UNI medalists, going 4-0 with two technical falls and a pin. He beat teammate Isaiah Patton, 16-0, in the finals.

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

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