By ANNE RILEY
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa freshman Spencer Lee is a once in a generation wrestler. Thankfully for Iowa head coach Tom Brands, it’s not his generation.
“He would have whipped my tail when I was his age,” Brands said Tuesday inside the Dan Gable wrestling complex. “He is a unique competitor, a unique talent, good student, good kid, and he represents our program the way we want our young guys to represent our program.”
Fans will get to see Lee on the mat when the Hawkeyes host Michigan State on Friday at 7 p.m. (CT) inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Friday will be the first time Lee wrestles in a Hawkeye singlet. The three-time Pennsylvania state champion is 6-1 this season competing unattached. In two days the redshirt comes off, and Brands expects to see the same approach that helped Lee win three age-division world championships.
“Not that (this match) is ho hum,” said Brands, “but we’d like it to be business as usual.”
Business as usual is going to be a challenge, because ever since Lee arrived on campus the wrestling world has been talking about the true freshman competing for the Hawkeyes. It has been a matter of discussion since the recruiting process began, and both Lee and Brands agree that now is the right time.
“It’s a no brainer that it is the best thing for the team,” said Brands. “Now we are to the point where we’ve sorted it out and both parties think that it’s the best thing for the individual, his family, and our program.”
Lee is one of three Hawkeyes set to make their debuts Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Two redshirt freshmen, 141-pounder Carter Happel and 165-pounder Alex Marinelli are also in the probable lineup. Happel is 10-5 this season and Marinelli is 6-0. Marinelli is ranked 14th by Intermat and is coming off a tournament title at the Midlands Championships.
Both Marinelli and Happel made their debuts Dec. 8 at Rutgers, which means the Iowa lineup continues to evolve, just as Brands said it would in November prior to the season. The latest evolution happens to be Spencer Lee. It is a development that impacts both the national landscape at 125 pounds and the energy inside the Hawkeye wrestling room.
“It definitely gives us a boost,” said Brands. “He supports his teammates and his teammates respond to him. I saw him the other day talking to Alex Marinelli, and those are good things because they help each other. He is a team player. He didn’t just come here to win individual titles; he came here to impact the team at a high level. That selflessness is another plus.”
The Hawkeyes and the Spartans meet at 7 p.m. (CT) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tickets are available at hawkeyesports.com/tickets.