The Weigh-In 125: The Quest For a Lee-peat

By RossWB on November 12, 2019 at 1:00 pm
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© Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
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Welcome to The Weigh-In, our extensive preview of Iowa wrestling heading into the 2019-20 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. 

Eligibility Remaining
Wrestler Year Ht/Wt. 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24
Spencer Lee JR 5-3 / 125          
Aaron Cashman FR (RS) 5-6 / 125          

THE KNOWN QUANTITY

Spencer Lee (5'3", 125 lbs, JR,  45-5 overall, 23-3 (2018-19), 2x NCAA Champion)

My favorite Spencer Lee stat? He's a 2-time NCAA champion... and a 0-time Midlands or Big Ten champion. In fact, the only other title he's won in college beyond those two NCAA championships was a UNI Open championship back in his freshman season. Will that change this year? Hard to say, although that has less to do with any failings on Lee's part than it does questions about his schedule and how often we'll see Lee on the mat for Iowa this season. Between Midlands and the Big Ten Tournament, the former seems far more tenuous than the latter; the Big Ten Tournament is a key tune-up for the NCAA Tournament a few weeks later and (I suspect) a title that Lee is more interested in claiming. Midlands happens to fall just a few days after Senior Nationals, a key U.S. Olympic Trial Qualifier event that Lee is likely to attend to secure his spot at the US Olympic Trials in early April. 

Because that's what this season is all about for Spencer Lee: trying to thread the needle between becoming a three-time NCAA champion, helping lead Iowa to its first team national title in 10 years, and trying to win an Olympic gold medal, too. If he can pull it off it will probably be the greatest year an Iowa wrestler has ever had. He's trying to follow in the footsteps of Kyle Snyder, another recent great who tried to balance freestyle (international) and folkstyle (collegiate) championship aspirations. Snyder wrestled a reduced schedule during his last two seasons in college, as he mixed in international freestyle competitions during the regular NCAA wrestling season as well. Lee is expected to do something similar this year, which means we shouldn't expect to see him on the mat at every dual meet or tournament that Iowa competes in. I do expect him to be around for Iowa's run of big home dual meets in January, though, as well as (obviously) the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments in March. 

We'll have to savor what we get of Lee this year, which is a little bittersweet when you consider that his Iowa career is already half over. We must enjoy it while it lasts, though, and seeing Spencer Lee wreck opponents on the mat is one of the truly great pleasures Iowa sports fans have been able to witness the last few years. He's going to be back at it again this year, hopefully better than ever. 

IN THE WAITING ROOM

Aaron Cashman (5'6", 125 lbs, FR (RS), 3-1 overall)

When Lee doesn't take the mat for Lee at 125 lbs this year, we can probably expect to see Aaron Cashman in his stead. Cashman is a redshirt freshman who was a one-time state champion in Minnesota and spent his final year of high school at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Cashman wrestled a very limited schedule during his first year in Iowa City, going just 3-1 against non-Division I competition at the Loras and Flash Flanagan Opens. He's had the best possible training partners a 125er could ask for, though, so we'll see if the experience of tussling with them in the Iowa practice room each day has sharpened his skills. We're definitely going to see Cashman in an Iowa singlet this year; it's just a matter of where and how often. 

STANDING IN THE WAY

OPPONENT ELIG SCHOOL OVR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Jack Mueller SR Virginia 73-13 2x All-American, 2019 NCAA runner-up, 2019 ACC Champion
Sebastian Rivera JR Northwestern 62-10 2x All-American, 2019 Big Ten Champion
Nick Piccininni SR Oklahoma State 89-15 2x All-American, 3x Big 12 Champion
Pat Glory SO Princeton 34-7 2019 All-American, 2019 EIWA Champion

Olympic redshirts are playing havoc with multiple weights this season, but they're having a minimal impact on the field of contenders at 125 lbs. Six of last year's eight NCAA All-Americans return to competition this year. The only absences from last year's podium are Oregon State's Ronnie Bresser (graduated) and Cornell's Vitali Arujau (OIympic redshirt). That means the field for Lee to navigate could look very similar to the one he faced last year on his run to a second-straight title.

Mueller was Lee's opponent in the NCAA finals, but he probably wasn't his stiffest challenger last year -- that would probably be Northwestern's Sebastian Rivera, who bested Lee in both the Midlands and Big Ten Tournament finals, giving Lee two of his only three losses last season. The Midlands win was a decisive win for Rivera (7-3), while the Big Ten triumph was much narrower (6-4 in overtime). Lee was dealing with health issues for much of last season, but Rivera wrestled him as well as anyone and could be a tough out again this season. One caveat: Rivera wrestled at 133 in Northwestern's season-opening dual meet against Virginia Tech last weekend; it's not year clear if he's moving to that weight full-time, but if he does that would make Lee's path to titles at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments a bit smoother. 

The other wrestler to beat Lee last year was Oklahoma State's Piccininni, who managed a fairly stunning pin of Spencer in the Iowa-Okie State dual meet. Piccininni was undoubtedly the better wrestler that day, but that match is certainly the outlier among their meetings over the last two seasons; Lee defeated him via 10-5 decision and 3:58 pin in 2018 and dropped him with an 11-4 decision in the NCAA Tournament semifinals last year. Piccininni is a dangerous opponent, but one that Lee has (mostly) been able to handle over the last two seasons. 

The other contender of note at 125 this year looks to be Princeton sophomore Pat Glory, who went 30-7 last year on his way to a 6th place finish at the NCAA Tournament. Lee bested him twice last year, first with an 18-2 technical fall early in the year and again with a 12-6 decision at Midlands, but Glory improved throughout the season and he's on an upward trajectory at this weight. He might emerge as the biggest threat to Lee over the next two seasons. 

KEY MATCHES

RANK OPPONENT ELIG LOCATION DATE
#9 Alex Mackall JR at Iowa State 11/24/19
#5 Pat Glory SO at Princeton 12/8/19
#15 Brock Hudkins JR at Indiana 1/10/20
#6 RayVon Foley JR at Michigan State 2/2/20
#13 Patrick McKee FR Minnesota 2/15/20
#4 Nick Piccinnini SR Oklahoma State 2/23/20

Hard to know how many of these matches Lee will actually wrestle, although I tend to think he'll be on the mat for at least the ISU and Okie State duals. It would be very interesting to get an early look at Lee-Glory again this year (before a potential NCAA Tournament rematch), but if Lee is wrestling a lighter schedule, he might skip some of Iowa's longer road trips. The MSU dual against Foley may also fit the bill, although even if they face off, it may not be much of a bout -- Lee is 2-0 against Foley lifetime with both matches ending in first period pins. If you're a fan around the Iowa City area attending Iowa's duals at CHA, you're not likely to see many high-profile showdowns involving Lee (sans the Piccinnini match), but he should provide some fireworks in terms of technical falls and pins.

WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN

Spencer Lee gave us reason to doubt him heading into the NCAA Tournament last year, given three regular season losses and rampant rumors about his health. All he did was go 5-0 in the NCAA Tournament again (with three bonus point wins) and claim a second-straight NCAA title. Lee has a proven knack for rising to the occasion and performing well at the biggest and best events. If he's healthy, there's not much reason to pick against Spencer Lee at this weight... and even if he's not 100%, he's still probably going to be a force to be reckoned with. I think Spencer gets his third straight NCAA title -- a Lee-peat, if you will -- as well as the first Big Ten championship of his career. 

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