By Taylor McNitt
Coming off years of the McDonough/Clark/Gilman legacy at the 125 weight class, true freshman Justin Stickley has big shoes to fill.
Now three matches into the Big Ten season, fellow true freshman Spencer Lee, finally healed, is threatening Stickley’s hold on the lightest weight spot.
The slot itself has its quirks for anyone who wrestles at the weight. As the first one out, the 125-pound wrestler not only has less time to digest any food, he also gets the ball rolling for the entire team. Stickley is no stranger to this pressure.
“[At 125], you’ve got a fresh slate, which is good because whether the dual’s going Iowa’s way or the opponent’s way, it can change as you move down the lineup,” he said. “It’s nice to start with a fresh slate, but at the same time, it can set the tone for the next couple weight classes, so I guess it is what it is. It’s kind of where I’ve been in the lineup from middle school, high school, and now, so it’s not a crazy new experience for me.”
As familiar as Stickley is with the pressure, so is his competition, which includes Lee.
Lee did not compete at Rutgers or Maryland, as Stickley did, but instead made his college debut at the University of Northern Iowa Open, where he won his weight class with no problems.
Stickley won his match in Maryland, but he fell to Rutgers sophomore Nick Suriano. Suriano is ranked No. 2 by Intermat at 125 and actually has a history with Lee.
“I’m sure everyone wants to see [another matchup between me and Suriano],” Lee said. “I haven’t wrestled him since high school. You know, we’re 1-1; he beat me when I was in eighth grade, and I got him as a freshman. But none of that really matters anymore, right? This is college wrestling. This is a new year, a new day, a new time. It will be a lot of fun. Obviously, I’ve got to win the first match and the second, and the third and the fourth [of Midlands]. But he would be a lot of fun to wrestle; he’s a great competitor.”
Yes, that’s right. Lee will definitely be going to Midlands. Head coach Tom Brands’ reasoning behind this decision is very simple.
“We’re day-to-day with Spencer Lee; we’re going to keep working, do what we’ve got to do,” he said. “Fans are used to lightweights doing well. Our fans are very knowledgeable, they understand. They want to be entertained. It’s an entertainment business. Lee is an entertainer. We’ve got to get better, and we will get better, and there may be a change, but there may not be. Spencer Lee will be wrestling Midlands, I know that.”
But after that? Even Brands doesn’t know.
Stickley will also head to Midlands, but from the sound of it, Lee will take the spot that earns team points. But still two weeks out from the tournament, that all could easily change. What the Hawkeyes know for sure is they’re going out to Midlands to prove themselves and see who is likely to claim the spot for the rest of the season.