Welcome to The Weigh-In, our extensive preview of Iowa wrestling heading into the 2018-19 season. We'll be doing weight-by-weight previews for all ten weight classes, as well as some full team breakdowns -- and maybe a few extra goodies as well.
|Spencer Lee||SO||5-3 / 125|
|Perez Perez||SR (RS)||5-5 / 125|
THE KNOWN QUANTITY
Spencer Lee (Sophomore, 5-3, 125 lbs., 22-2 overall, 2018 All American, 2018 NCAA Champion, 2018 Big Ten - 3rd)
How do you follow up one of the best freshman seasons -- and NCAA Tournament performances -- in Iowa history? That's the question facing Spencer Lee as he enters his sophomore season at Iowa. His toughest opponent may not be anyone who steps on the mat with him this year, but rather his own rapidly growing reputation (I don't think we can call it a legacy quite yet) -- and the record books.
Spencer Lee came to Iowa City as arguably Iowa's most hyped recruit over and someone for whom Iowa fans had enormous expectations. And then he proceeded to go out and not just meet -- but likely surpass -- those lofty goals as a true freshman. All while still recuperating from a serious knee injury suffered a year earlier. Lee is now almost two years removed from that knee injury and he took the summer off to heal and recharge. That's a long-winded way of saying that we could be in store for an even better version of Spencer Lee than the one we witnessed last year. And, just so we're clear, the Lee we saw last year absolutely incinerated an utterly loaded field at 125 lbs on his way to a national championship.
Lee went 22-2 last year and recorded bonus points in 75% of his wins... and it doesn't seem unrealistic at all that he could surpass those totals this year. Lee wrestled last year while being just year removed from a serious knee injury (and subsequent surgery). He wrestled most of the season while wearing a bulky knee brace. He was also dealing with the college weight cut rules and his first experiences at the Division I level. To say nothing of just dealing with everything else that goes along with being a freshman in college.
Now? All of that should be behind him. He's going to be another eight months removed from that knee injury (and surgery), and he's spent all summer recuperating and recharging (and playing Pokemon, no doubt). He knows the score about college life now and he knows what wrestling at the Division I level is about. He's wrestled on Saturday night at the NCAA Tournament and won a championship. Now he doesn't have to worry about his knee or the awkward brace he was wearing. He's accustomed to the weight cut and the rhythms of college life and he knows what it takes to succeed in wrestling in college. He can just focus on wrestling and, as you might have noticed, he's pretty good at that.
IN THE WAITING ROOM
Perez Perez (Senior (RS), 5-5, 125 lbs., 16-14 overall)
Years ago, when Peyton Manning was the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, the Colts' offensive coordinator, Tom Moore, was asked why the backup quarterbacks got so few reps in practice. Moore said something to the effect of "Because if anything happens to 18 [Manning], we're fucked." That's pretty much Iowa and 125 lbs -- it's Spencer Lee or bust. If Lee has to miss a dual, Perez could fill in for him. Perez went 7-4 last year, but his wins came over opponents from Luther, Coe, Ouachita Baptist (x2), SIU-Edwardsville, and Maryville (x2). Not exactly a murderer's row. If Lee was going to miss a significant amount of time, I suspect someone from 133 may come down (such as Justin Stickley, who manned this weight until Lee came out of redshirt in January last year, or Cam Shaver, a true freshman).
STANDING IN THE WAY
The short answer is "no one." The longer answer is... it depends. Lee lost just two matches last year on his way to a national title, one to Oregon State's Ronnie Bresser in the Midlands semifinals and one to Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Lee avenged his loss to Tomasello emphatically in the NCAA Tournament semifinals and Tomasello has now graduated, so he can't pose a threat at 125 lbs anymore. Bresser is back for one more year, but with all due respect to him, I don't think a rematch against Lee would go very well for him. He won the first match by the skin of his teeth and that came against a Lee who was wrestling in one of his first collegiate matches and dealing with a bulky knee brace. The Lee who won an NCAA title in March was a quantum leap beyond the Lee from Midlands and, as noted above, Lee could (should?) be even better this year, which should be a scary thought for the rest of the nation's 125ers. There's also the fact that last year Lee tended to look better in rematches against the same opponent, so giving Lee a second crack at Bresser seems likely to produce a good result for our little phenom.
Honestly, the real question at this weight is who's going to sticks around. Minnesota's Ethan Lizak, a two-time All-American and NCAA finalist in 2017, has already bounced up to 133 lbs. There's been a lot of speculation that Rutgers' Nick Suriano, last year's NCAA runner-up, will move up to 133 lbs, though nothing has yet been confirmed. Likewise, Oklahoma State's own lightweight phenom, Daton Fix, could wrestle here -- or he could wrestle up at 133 instead. Suriano gave Lee one of his toughest bouts of the year in the NCAA finals last year and Fix is poised to come off redshirt and be an immediate force at either 125 or 133. If both Suriano and Fix opt for 133, though, it's hard to see who could mount a serious challenge to Lee at this weight.
|11/24/18||#16 Devin Schorder||Purdue||B1G||Iowa City, IA|
|12/8/18||#7 Connor Schram||Lehigh||non-conf||Iowa City, IA|
|1/13/19||#6 Sean Russell||Minnesota||B1G||Iowa City, IA|
|1/18/19||#3* Nick Suriano||Rutgers||B1G||Iowa City, IA|
|1/25/19||#11 Travis Piotrowski||Illinois||B1G||Champaign, IL|
|1/27/19||#2 Sebastian Rivera||Northwestern||B1G||Evanston, IL|
|2/3/19||#5 Zeke Moisey||Nebraska||B1G||Lincoln, NE|
#3 Nick Piccinnini or
UR Daton Fix
|Oklahoma State||non-conf||Stillwater, OK|
* ranked at 133
(rankings via W.I.N.)
Despite our overall issues with Iowa's schedule, Lee at least is poised to see a lot of top guys -- he could see six Top-10 guys this year, including most of the Top-5. Of course, then you remember what he did to many of those guys last year... Lee beat Piccinnini 10-5 in their first encounter, then pinned him in just under four minutes at the NCAA Tournament. He beat Russell via 15-0 technical fall (the same score he also used to defeat Ethan Lizak, Minnesota's previous starter at this weight) at Midlands. He also beat Rivera twice last year, 7-4 at the dual and 12-0 in the rematch at the Big Ten Tournament. But hey: watching Lee dismantle opponents is always good; watching him dismantle the best wrestlers makes things even more fun.
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN
Fireworks. Lee is going to kick off duals with a bang for Iowa and stake the team to a lot of early 5-0 or 6-0 leads. There will be bonus points aplenty from Iowa's best wrestler as he continues his march through the 125 ranks. I also expect Lee to fill in the only holes on his resume from a year ago with a Midlands Championship in December and his first Big Ten Championship in March. And I fully expect Lee to be Iowa's first two-time NCAA champion since Matt McDonough in 2012 -- and Iowa's first back-to-back NCAA champion since Mark Perry in 2008. Lee can even set his sights on Iowa's first undefeated season since Jay Borschel in 2008. Let's just sit back and enjoy the ride, folks -- we're getting to watch something special in Spencer Lee.