Spencer Lee Out For Season, To Have Knee Surgery

By RossWB on January 1, 2022 at 9:12 pm
Get well soon, Spencer.
© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Well here's some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news for Iowa wrestling on the first day of 2022: Spencer Lee's season, which began just a few weeks ago at the Collegiate Wrestling Duals, is already over. Lee is going to sit out the rest of the season and have knee surgery. He announced the decision on Twitter: 

Lee is, unfortunately, extremely familiar with knee injuries and ACL reconstructions. He tore the ACL in his right knee as a high school senior, but competed on it through the remainder of the season, before having reconstructive surgery on it after the season. He recovered in time to join Iowa's lineup as a true freshman in January 2018 and went on a tear, eventually winning his first NCAA championship in March. 

He re-tore the ACL in that knee in the 2019 NCAA Tournament final (a match he won, 5-0), but opted not to have reconstructive surgery at the time, but instead went with a rehabilitation-based approach instead. That worked fine at the time and he competed without issue for the next two years. Then, in the 2021 Big Ten Tournament final, Lee tore the ACL ins his left knee. He again opted to go with a rehabilitation-based approach with that knee, likely to enable him to return to the mat sooner and to improve Iowa's ability to contend for an NCAA team championship this season. Sadly, as he noted in his explanation, this knee hasn't responded as well as to the rehabilitation approach, so it's back to the surgical option. 

I don't know if Lee is going to have both ACLs surgically repaired, or just the one that's causing him the most difficulty at present. I imagine we'll find out more about the details of the surgery (and ensuing rehab) in the weeks and months to come. 

This news is obviously a massive disappointment (and I'm sure no one feels that disappointment and heartbreak more acutely than Lee), but it shouldn't end Lee's ability to compete for a fourth NCAA championship. Shutting down his season now and pursuing surgery should render him eligible to receive a medical hardship waiver and compete in 2022-23. As Cody Goodwin noted in The Des Moines Register, in order to receive a medical hardship waiver, "an athlete can't compete in more than 30% of his or her team's total competitions in a season, can't compete after the midway point of the season, and must have documentation from a licensed medical professional that their injury prevented them from competing." Lee should meet all of those criteria. 

As for who replaces Lee in the lineup at 125 lbs this season, there are a few options. Redshirt freshman Jesse Ybarra has been Iowa's primary option at 125 lbs so far this season, going 5-1 overall, though he hasn't faced the strongest competition. True freshman Drake Ayala could be another option. Entering today, Ayala was 5-1, with all five wins coming via bonus points and his only loss coming against Top 10-ranked Patrick McKee. Ayala was a big-time (Top 10 overall) recruit for Iowa in last year's recruiting class and has been tipped to be Lee's eventual replacement. It's worth noting that if he competed this season, he could still use a redshirt next year when Lee is (hopefully) back in the lineup. The other option would be sophomore Aaron Cashman, who hasn't competed this year but is 15-10 overall in his career at Iowa. Realistically, though, I would expect either Ybarra or Ayala to be the guy at 125 lbs for the rest of the season. 

Obviously, taking Lee out of Iowa's lineup is a fairly massive blow to their hopes of repeating as NCAA champion. Replacing those 25 points will not extremely difficult. But I'll discuss that in further detail in another post. 

For now, let's just focus on Lee and the news that the most exciting -- and dominant -- Iowa wrestler of the last several years won't be in action for quite some time. That really, really, really sucks. But hopefully the surgery will enable Lee to get fully repaired and recovered; getting to see a full-strength Lee unleash hell on his opponents would be a wonderful sight to behold. So good luck with the surgery and rehab, Spencer, and get well soon. We can't wait to see you get back on the mat and take people on trips to Tilt Town. 

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