This is what we dreamed about when Spencer Lee signed with Iowa almost two years ago. This is what we hoped for when Tom Brands pulled Spencer Lee's redshirt before the Michigan State dual in January. And now we have it: Spencer Lee, National Champion.
SPENCER LEE NATIONAL CHAMPION pic.twitter.com/WpXTEsLAvf
— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 18, 2018
Lee won the title with a match that didn't have the flash of his earlier NCAA Tournament wins -- there were no trips to Tilt Town here and no emphatic match-ending pins -- but showed off the incredible collection of skills that makes him such a phenom. His strength was on display as he fended off several attacks from Nick Suriano. His scrambling ability was on display as he rolled through several positions with Suriano, finally coming out on top. His finishing ability was on display, too, when he got to Suriano's legs and finished a pair of takedowns, one in the first and one in the third to put the match out of reach with time running down. His otherworldly ability on top was not on display much -- his first takedown came in the final seconds of the first period and while he racked up 30 seconds of riding time after his second takedown, he wasn't able to Suriano flattened out and tilted. No matter -- we have the evidence from the first four matches of his NCAA Tournament run to know what happens when Lee is able to establish dominance from the top position. Well, we have that and the fact that no one over the next three years is likely to voluntarily opt to choose the down position against Lee at the start of a period; that's how feared his ability is from the top position.
And about those takedowns... those were the first takedowns that Suriano had conceded -- for the entire tournament. No one else had been able to take him down even once in Cleveland; Lee took him down twice. Both takedowns showed what happens when Lee gets ahold of your leg -- he's not going to let go and, chances are, he's going to finish and score points on you.
You can see the takedowns (and more) in this nice video from Hawkeye Sports. (I'd embed it, but it's not embeddable for some reason.)
Suriano is an excellent wrestler -- he was 25-0 on the season and before tonight his only loss outside of two injury defaults last year were a 3-2 loss to Thomas Gilman at the Iowa-Penn State dual last season. And yet he never seriously threatened Lee, thanks to Lee's incredible defense. Suriano's best shot seemed to be keep the match close and make it a one-move match, either in the third period or overtime. Lee never let it get to that, thanks to the takedown he finished at the end of the first and the control he displayed throughout.
Lee becomes Iowa's first freshman to win a national title since Matt McDonough won a 125 lb title as a redshirt freshman in 2010. Coincidentally, that was also the last time Iowa won a team national championship. Iowa didn't win a team title this week, but with Lee leading the charge, there's certainly reason to hope that that painful drought will end during his career here. He's also Iowa's first true freshman since the great Lincoln McIlravy won a national championship back in 1993 at 142 lbs. McIlravy went on to have one of the greatest careers an Iowa wrestler has ever had (three NCAA title, three Big Ten titles, four-time All-American). Hopefully this is the start of a great career for Lee as well.
Congratulations on reaching the top of the mountain, Spencer Lee. This was a hell of an opening act for your career -- we can't wait to see what comes next. Oh and of course: