Spencer Lee faced adversity, renewed confidence in NCAA title run

Spencer Lee’s journey to his second national title didn’t come without some low points.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s 125-pound Spencer Lee celebrates defeating Virginia’s Jack Mueller during the final session of the 2019 NCAA D1 Wrestling Championships at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA on Saturday, March 23, 2019. Lee won by decision, 5-0, and defended his national title.

Anna Kayser, Assistant Sports Editor

PITTSBURGH – NCAA Champion Spencer Lee was lifted off his feet and carried out of the interview room by his teammates following a 5-0 finals match win on Saturday night.

A match that, without his teammates, Lee might have never seen.

On Feb. 24, Lee was pinned by his semifinal opponent, Nick Piccininni, something that could have been a turning point in his season – for better or worse.

“I remember losing to Oklahoma State and freaking,” Lee said. “I had whole team grab me and telling me they loved me, and we were a family and we’re going to be in this together. And I know that moment there is when I gotta move on. I’ve got to be the better version of myself.”

Lee’s season also took him through two losses to Sebastian Rivera, once to lose in the Big Ten title match.

However, despite the loss immediately before NCAAs, Lee came back and wrestled his best all year during the national tournament.

“You look back on the path he took, and he’s a warrior,” head coach Tom Brands said. “He needs to give himself a lot of credit.”

Lee left everything on the mat in his finals match when he wrestled at his highest – scoring points, being smart, and staying ahead – but the physical stuff came from his mentality.

His teammates are the ones that help him focus in on that personal mindset, the one that makes champions.

“I just gotta believe in myself,” Lee said. “And my teammates, they instilled a lot of power into me, mental power, because they tell me every day that I’m the best wrestler in the world. You’ve got to believe that.”

Lee overcame his adversity by beating Piccininni in the semifinals and moving on to face Jack Mueller from Virginia.

For the entirety of the tournament, Lee preached a scoring-points mentality: he wasn’t worried about the score or the clock, he just looked forward towards his next points opportunity. And in the finals, that’s exactly what he did. He stayed on top and took shots at Mueller’s legs that ultimately resulted in his two takedowns.

“Big time wrestlers show up at big time matches,” Lee said. “I believe that too. I believe we all show up the best we can, especially when you face a great opponent like Jack Mueller. He’s a great opponent.”

For two years in a row, Lee has showed up to his big time NCAA matches, and his dominance on the mat suggests that there’s more to come in his career.

But for him, becoming a four-time national champion isn’t something that he is worried about right now.

“I’m focused on what’s next,” Lee said. “That’s going to be summer wrestling and we’ll see how that goes. And gotta get healthy and everything, whatever, you know how it is. Big time big national tournament, everyone is a little tweaked up, getting ready to finish the summer off strong.

“Can’t worry about being a four-time national champ because you can’t win four if you don’t win three, and I haven’t won three yet,” he added.

Lee outscored his opponents, 55-7, over the course of the tournament and never trailed in any of his matches.

“When he just can put what’s behind him, behind him, and keep it behind him, then you start to wrestle for seven minutes, and that’s what he’s done this tournament,” Brands said. “It’s one of those things where you’ve got to give him credit.”

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