By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — When you’re Spencer Lee good, two-time national champion good, people fixate on the rare instances where something doesn’t go your way.
That will happen in the days leading up to Sunday’s regular-season finale for the undefeated and top-ranked University of Iowa wrestling team. The Hawkeyes (12-0 overall) face No. 9 Oklahoma State (13-2) in a dual between the two most tradition-rich programs the sport has to offer. The opening bout at 125 pounds will begin at 7:03 p.m. (CT) and feature Lee, an Iowa junior, against two-time All-American Nick Piccininni, an Oklahoma State redshirt senior.
Lee owns three collegiate victories over Piccininni: one by fall, one by seven points, and one by five points. In the past two seasons, Lee has sent Piccininni to the back side of the bracket in both NCAA Tournaments.
But, when you’re Spencer Lee good, two-time national champion good, people fixate on the rare instance when something doesn’t go your way. One of those instances happened during the 2019 dual in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“Everyone can say they got caught, but he locked up a cradle, ran me over, and it was the end of the day and end of story,” said Lee, who lost by fall to Piccininni in 4:55.
Since then, Lee has gone 21-1 with five falls, eight technical falls, and three major decisions. In the semifinals of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Lee dominated Piccininni, 11-4.
“Losses haunt every great athlete, it’s all about improving, learning from your mistakes, and becoming a better person and wrestler,” Lee said. “I would have wrestled whoever they put in front of me at nationals and he happened to be one of them.”
Iowa head coach Tom Brands said Oklahoma State “beat us up” last year in the dual — a 27-12 win for the Cowboys. “It’s not lost on many people, if any, (in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex).”
So, here they are, 98 days after the Hawkeyes opened the season with a 39-0 win over Chattanooga. with Brands reiterating that Sunday’s dual on Mediacom Mat in Carver-Hawkeye Arena is no different than any of the previous six home duals this season.
“We’re going to have to do some work Sunday and we will have to get ready for 10 matches, just like when Chattanooga came to town for the first dual meet, just like last week when Minnesota came to town,” he said. “It is no different, it is the next event on the calendar.”
All 10 Iowa wrestlers in the probable lineup are ranked in the top-8 nationally; Oklahoma State has three in the top-8. The most anticipated match will be No. 1 Lee (14-0) against No. 4 Piccininni (23-1). Piccininni’s only loss this season was to Patrick Glory of Princeton, 9-4.
There is plenty of history between the two, with the majority of meetings going to the Hawkeye. But, when you’re Spencer Lee good, two-time national champion good, people fixate on the rare instances where something doesn’t go your way.
“When you lose, you have to find a way to improve,” Lee said. “It wasn’t a national final, it wasn’t Olympic Trials, at the end of the day people can remember it and keep it in their hearts forever, I don’t care. It’s over and we had to move on to the next best thing. That is all you can do, move on.”
Moving on is something Lee has done quite well.