In case we needed another reminder, we got one this weekend: Spencer Lee is very, very, very good at wrestling. Lee competed at the U.S. Senior National Championship in freestyle wrestling over the weekend -- and he absolutely demolished the field. Lee went 5-0 and defeated a field of some of the very best wrestlers in the U.S. at 57 KG over the weekend. The victory gave Lee a U.S. senior championship and, more importantly, qualified him for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in April. And there's little doubt that his performance in Fort Worth this weekend established him as a top contender to win the U.S. spot at 57 KG for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Lee has big goals this season -- win a third-straight individual NCAA championship, help Iowa win a team NCAA championship, qualify for the U.S. Olympic team, and win an Olympic gold medal -- and he took a big step toward the latter two goals with his showing on Saturday and Sunday. There were several ways for Lee to qualify for the Olympic Trials (which will be held in State College, PA in April next year), but a top-5 finish at the U.S. Senior Nationals was the first and easiest way to guarantee a spot in the trials. Lee locked that up after blasting his way into the finals on Saturday.
Lee is an elite wrestler in both folkstyle and freestyle -- even if he hadn't shown his skill at the latter style in several years. He was a Cadet world champion in 2014 and a Junior world champion in 2015 and 2016 -- and very likely would have won a third Junior world championship in 2017 if he hadn't been recovering from ACL surgery. He's eschewed freestyle competition since arriving at Iowa and winning back-to-back NCAA championships, but he clearly hasn't lost a step in that style.
Against a 57 KG field that included six total NCAA champions, a slew of past All-Americans, a Junior world silver medalist, and a member of the U23 world team, Lee ran roughshod. Lee's Senior Nationals started with a 10-0 technical fall over Jacob Moran in under 30 seconds. He followed that up with a 10-0 technical fall win over Shane Kim -- also in under 30 seconds. His quarterfinal opponent, 2017 NCAA champion Darian Cruz, also went down via 10-0 technical fall. In the semifinals Lee met 2018 NCAA All-American and World Junior silver medalist Vitali Arujau and fell behind 2-0 -- before roaring back to record a 14-4 technical fall. In the finals Lee met 2015 NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello... and promptly cruised to an 8-2 win. He led 5-0 after the first period and after giving up two to Tomasello early in the second, he picked up a penalty point and got a third and final takedown to secure his win. All told Lee outscored his opposition 52-6 -- against some of the very best wrestlers the U.S. has to offer at 57 KG.
At the Olympic Trials Lee will face another murderer's row of talent at 57 KG. The list of qualified wrestlers at that weight includes former Iowa wrestler (and current Lee workout partner) Thomas Gilman, a former World silver medalist, as well 2019 World team member Daton Fix. 2018 NCAA champion (at 133 lbs) Seth Gross is also qualified. Based on their finishes at the U.S. Senior Nationals this year, Tomasello, Arujau, 2019 NCAA champion (at 133 lbs) Nick Suriano, and former Minnesota wrestler Zach Sanders have also qualified for the Olympic Trials. 2016 NCAA champion (at 133 lbs) Nahshon Garrett is qualified at 61 KG (which is not an Olympic weight), but will be able to compete at 57 KG in the Olympic Trials, as well as the 2018 and 2019 World team members at 61 KG, Joe Colon and Tyler Graff. That weight won't be an easy one to navigate (though that will be true of all the weights at the Olympic Trials), but after this weekend it's very obvious that Lee is one of the very best wrestlers at this weight. His pace was relentless and he showed the ability to score in a variety of ways, both from neutral and on the mat. Spencer Lee is something special and he keeps finding new ways of reminding us of that.
In addition to Lee, a few other wrestlers with Iowa ties did well at the U.S. Senior Nationals. Sammy Brooks finished 5th at 86 KG, which qualified him for the Olympic Trials. The Hawkeye Wrestling Club's Forrest Molinari also competed at Senior Nationals -- and she was even more dominant than Lee, posting a 5-0 record with four pins. Molinari was already qualified for the Olympic Trials, as are HWC teammates Alli Ragan and Kayla Miracle; all three qualified for the Trials because they were on the 2019 World team. Former Iowa wrestler Cory Clark and HWC member (and future Iowa wrestler) Jaydin Eierman competed at Senior Nationals, but did not qualify (Clark suffered a serious wrist injury and had to default out of the tournament), as did HWC competitor Michaela Beck.