"Unbelievable. I have ran out of adjectives."
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) January 23, 2021
It’s difficult to make bold proclamations about events that have not or will not happen, especially in something like the NCAA Championships, where upsets happen at every weight class, but Spencer Lee is on another level.
Lee, whose jovial smile hides his near-superhuman grip strength, probably would have won the 2020 NCAA D1 National Championship at 125 lbs. had it not been canceled. As a freshman and number-one recruit coming out of Franklin Regional High School, Lee came off red-shirt status to win his first NCAA title. As a sophomore, Lee outscored his opponents in the tournament 55–7 en route to his second NCAA Championship; COVID-19 is what stopped him from winning a third as a junior. Thanks to an NCAA rule granting all athletes hardship eligibility, though, Lee’s quest to win four NCAA Championships is still alive.
The 2020 Hodge Trophy winner, NCAA Wrestling’s equivalent to the Heisman, has been untouchable this season, and it’s not an understatement: The Iowa Hawkeye has not once left the first period. He hasn’t even given up an offensive point this year. Not one! Since last season, Lee has wrestled 19 matches: 7 reached the full seven-minute mark, while 10 ended in the first period, often via technical fall, wrestling’s fifteen-point advantage slaughter rule.
The fun-natured native of Murrysville, Penn., who uses the Pokemon theme as entrance music, is certainly cut from a different cloth than his coach, the intense Tom Brands, who won three NCAA titles for the Hawkeyes in the early ’90s. The Hawkeyes are known for their grinding style and for out-conditioning opponents for generations. Spencer Lee rarely needs to dig deep to score points. Once Lee secures a takedown, near-fall points are coming. Then he collects a few more. Not since Gene Mills in the early 80s has an athlete been so dominant in the top position.
In the Midwest, most coaches emphasize wrestling on your feet. The “neutral position” is, for most, where matches are won and lost. On the East Coast, or the hub for Folkstyle wrestling, Penn. state is known for its mat wrestling. Schools like Easton High are nationally known for their tilt series, for example, but it’s not just Easton High where the mat game is stressed: Across the state, youth wrestlers will focus on scoring points on top, which is one one way how they traditionally produce more All-Americans than anywhere else in the country, and exponentially so, some years. The one-minute riding-time point is critical in NCAA matches. The “PA style” does a great preparing high school wrestlers for the college transition, as the top game is so vital to the style, the bottom portion becomes crucial. Opponents must escape just to survive in the Keystone State—unless they’re wrestling Spencer Lee.