A Busy Season Could Lead To Lee's Biggest Dream

John Bohnenkamp

Spencer Lee could have it all this season.

The Iowa junior 125-pounder already has two NCAA championships. He won two Junior World Champion titles and one Cadet World Champion crown as a high school wrestler.

This season could mean much more.

He’s going for another national championship. He’s hoping to lead the Hawkeyes to the NCAA team title for the first time since 2010.

And then he wants an Olympic medal.

How he’s going to do it, what kind of schedule he will have to keep to do all of that, isn’t for public knowledge.

“I’m just going to wrestle when they tell me to, and that’s pretty much that,” Lee said on Wednesday.

Lee could have taken an Olympic redshirt season to work on qualifying for the United States team and the 2020 Games in Tokyo, but he’s going to be a Hawkeye, too. And that is going to take some schedule juggling. There are meets he’ll need to qualify for the U.S. team trials in early April, but where and when he’ll be wrestling is still a question.

“We’ll see where I go. We haven’t figured everything out,” Lee said. “I don’t want to say something and then change my mind. So, you guys will just have to see. It’s not a big secret or anything.”

“We're going to need him, and the thing is his best preparation for what he's trying to accomplish in Tokyo (for the Olympics), he knows that it's through those seven-minute matches,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “Not because the styles are similar or not similar, however you want to get into that debate, but because there's a certain amount of toughness that goes into an extra minute and riding time and overtime. So you've got to be conditioned to wrestle 11-(minute), 12-minute matches, and that helps Spencer Lee. That's what he needs.

“And when you have to go get one to put yourself on top, there's no difference between a seven-minute match and a six-minute match. You've got to go get one. And he's come to that. Those were his own words. That's his evaluation. That's our evaluation with him. It was not a hard conversation with him at all.”

“It’s just what’s best for me, really,” said Lee, who is 45-5 in his two seasons at Iowa. “Obviously I want to help the team out, win the national title. I think wrestling during the season is a great idea. Helps keep me accountable, in shape, and ready to rock and roll.”

“I think it just speaks to the type of teammate he is,” said 174-pounder Michael Kemerer. “He’s about winning titles and everything, but he’s about the team, too. I think he knows we need him by our side to win this team title, and I think he’s a big team guy, too.”

Lee knows he needs to be surrounded with help, and Iowa, to him, is a perfect spot.

“I need everyone. This is a group effort,” he said. “No one makes the Olympic team on their own, unless you’re just not human, in my opinion. You’ve got to have a coach, you’ve got to have a support network, you’ve got to have people who believe in you and love you and want the best for you. You have to have people who don’t believe in you. You’ve got have people who are never going to let you make a decision that could hinder your improvement or what’s best for you. This is a group effort.”

Aaron Cashman, a redshirt freshman, would take Lee’s spot in duals where he is not with the Hawkeyes.

“He’s not going to concede that position, but everybody else is saying that he's the No. 2 guy on our roster at 125, and he's going to have to be ready to go,” Brands said. “He'll be on the mat in some big dual meet matches for us.”

Brands knows that Lee could have tried for the Olympic redshirt year and not been a part of this team.

“I think these Olympic redshirts, if you qualify for them, there's benefits,” Brands said. “There's some guys that are really in it to make the team, but there's also … it's a loophole rule, as well. If you qualify, there's some other guys that are redshirting and your best team could be a year from now, why not take the Olympic redshirt loophole to make it better, and that's not what we're doing here. We're doing what's best for our individual like we always do, and we're planning to put our best team on the mat, and that includes Spencer Lee.”

Lee knows there is so much to this season for him.

“Well, my goal has always been an Olympic gold medal,” he said. “National titles are great and all, but I’ll take an Olympic medal over any of my national titles, any day. That’s not even a decision, anywhere close to a tough decision. That was my goal when I came to Iowa — to be the best I can be. World, Olympic championships. National titles are a great stepping stone for that.”

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