Three weeks ago we were giddy at the thought of Spencer Lee coming out of redshirt to wrestle as a true freshman. Suffice to say, the early returns on that decision are looking pret-tay, pret-tay good. Since then, he overwhelmed Michigan State's Rayvon Foley, who's 20-6 on the season and a recent Junior Greco national champion, with a pin in the first period. He appeared on his way to a major decision win over Oklahoma State's Nick Piccininni (then ranked #6) in that dual, though a leaky gas tank meant he had to settle for a 10-5 decision win. And this Sunday he just beat the #1-ranked wrestler in the country at 125 lbs, Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello. On Senior Day. In front of over 15,000 fans. In Spencer Lee's 10th-ever match as a collegiate wrestler. Less than a year after he had major ACL surgery. So that was pretty cool.
And fresh off that win he's been deservedly named the Big Ten's Wrestler of the Week:
Spencer Lee of @Hawks_Wrestling earns #B1GWrestle Wrestler of the Week honors after handing top-ranked fifth-year senior Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State his first loss of the season in the Hawkeyes' dual meet in Columbus | https://t.co/1PPjAuesxP pic.twitter.com/kVDrWXGXJA— Big Ten Wrestling (@B1GWrestling) January 23, 2018
Based off the start to his career -- which already includes three wins over Top 10-ranked opponents, in just ten matches total -- it certainly won't be the last time he wins that award. Lee has things that he'll need to improve -- his stamina appeared to be a major issue against Oklahoma State last week and against some of the best guys at the weight he's had a difficult time finishing takedowns from neutral -- but overall he's off to an excellent start as a true freshman. His strength from the top position on the mat has been extraordinary and every bit as good as advertised. He's been able to turn multiple opponents for tilts and pins and even when he hasn't been able to do that, he's been able to put on hellacious rides and maintain control in that position (as he did against Tomasello, riding him for the entire second period).
Lee's win over Tomasello has also seen him continue his meteoric rise up the rankings at 125 lbs too. From unranked to #11 to #6 to now #3 by all the major ranking services (InterMat, FloWrestling, TrackWrestling, W.I.N.). He's behind only Rutgers' Nick Suriano, 18-0 on the season, and Lehigh's Darian Cruz, the defending NCAA champion at 125 lbs who's also 18-0 on the season. Unless one or both of them lose, Lee likely won't be able to get any higher than #3 until the Big Ten Tournament (when he may get a crack at Suriano), but that's still a lofty -- and wholly deserved -- ranking for Iowa's true freshman star.
The road doesn't get any easier for Lee over the next few weeks, though. He's just had two matches in a row against 125ers ranked in the Top 10 and he's set to face Top 10-ranked 125ers in each of his next three dual meets as well. This weekend he gets Michigan's Drew Mattin (ranked #9 by InterMat), who's fresh off an overtime win over Minnesota's Ethan Lizak (ranked #6 by InterMat). The following weekend he's slated to face Lizak (19-3 on the season and last year's NCAA runner-up) and Northwestern's Sebastian Rivera (19-1 on the season and ranked #10 by InterMat). Lee will get a little bit of a breather after that -- neither Penn State nor Iowa State, Iowa's final two dual meet opponents, have a 125er ranked in the Top 20 -- but still. Five straight matches against Top 10 opponents?! 125 lbs is absolutely ridiculous this year.
But as Spencer Lee is showing week after week, he's good enough to beat any of 'em. And we get to sit back and watch the start of what could be a truly special Iowa career. This is gonna be fun. Correction: this is already fun.
EDIT: Spencer Lee racked up a bunch of Wrestler of the Week honors this week, actually. From the NCAA:
From USA Wrestling:
And from TheOpenMat.com: