By James Geerdes
CLEVELAND — Seven months ago, Spencer Lee started his freshman year. On March 17, he climbed to the top of the most prestigious podium in college wrestling at the NCAA Division 1 wrestling championship at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
On March 17, Lee walked out out to Pokemon’s theme song, “Gotta Catch ’Em All”, stepped onto the mat for the final time of his decorated freshman season and continued his dominance at the college level.
Head coach Tom Brands removed Lee’s redshirt just three months ago, and some questioned whether that was the right decision. On the evening of March 17, Lee hushed any and all doubt.
On his way to the finals match, he made the best lightweights in the country crumble at the national tournament. Lee’s sprint to the top included a tech fall over Alonzo Allen of Chatanooga, another over Purdue No. 14 seed Luke Welch, a fall over Minnesota’s sixth-seeded Ethan Lizak, and a pin over No. 2 Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State to get to the finals.
He added a final exclamation point to his weekend when he met Rutgers’ fourth-seeded and undefeated 125-pounder Nick Suriano in the finals. Lee used 2 takedowns and an escape to win a 5-1 decision over Suriano and get his hand raised for the final time his freshman season.
“I don’t know if it’s really set in,” Lee said following his win. “I got to hug my teammates and my family. That was an awesome feeling.”
His win made him Iowa’s first true freshman national champion since Lincoln McIlravy in 1993. But the individual title will never be enough for Lee. The true freshman wants to bring the rest of the Iowa roster to the top with him.
“Right now, we’re looking at Spencer Lee,” Iowa senior and four-time All-American Brandon Sorensen said. “He’s the example right now. He’s doing things right. He’s going out there, and putting points on the board, and not holding anything back. Right now, that’s great, great freshman leadership.”
Lee led the team and the nation in contributed team points this weekend. With his two pins, two technical falls, and a decision, Lee accrued 27 team points. His efforts helped give Iowa a third-place finish behind Penn State and Ohio State.
It’s always been about the team for Lee. He wants to bring the rest of his teammates to the peak with him.
“That’s what I want everyone to know about the University of Iowa,” Lee said. “We’re not these robots or whatever that stigma was a long time ago. We’re a family, and we love each other, and we all want to be national champs. And that’s the goal. That’s what we want to be known as.”
Lee rose to the top this weekend, but there are still three more years for the true freshman to be the best there ever was.
“These coaches don’t want to face Spencer Lee very much,” All-American 165-pounder Alex Marinelli said. “And they have four years with him. That’s scary.”