Celebrating Iowa’s national champions

Spencer Lee and Laulauga Tausaga both excelled all season en route to their national titles.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa's 125-lb Spencer Lee wrestles Northwestern's Sebastian Rivera during the fourth session of the 2019 Big Ten Wrestling Championships in Minneapolis, MN on Saturday, March 9, 2019. Rivera won by sudden victory, 6-4, and finished first in his weight class. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

It was a busy year for Hawkeye sports, and it ended with two national champions in the final four months.

Iowa wrestling’s Spencer Lee and Hawkeye track’s Laulauga Tausaga both climbed to the top of the totem pole in their respective sports. Now, Lee has two NCAA gold medals in two seasons, and Tausaga has another shot at doubling her total during her senior season in 2020.

The Daily Iowan took a look back on the first half of 2019 in Hawkeye sports to see how each athlete ended the season at the top.

Spencer Lee

After claiming a national title in his first season in the Black and Gold, Lee entered 2018-19 as a favorite to go back-to-back.

He started the season 6-0 as Iowa picked up dual wins over Cal State-Bakerfield, Kent State, Princeton, Purdue, Iowa State, and Lehigh.

The 125-pounder didn’t hit adversity until the Midlands came along, in which he dropped his first match of the season to Northwestern’s Sebastian Rivera, 7-3

Lee bounced back in a big way, though, securing victories in his next 10 matches. Then, the Hawkeyes visited Nick Piccininni and Oklahoma State.

Piccininni toppled Lee with a pin in 4:55 for the first time in Lee’s college career as the Cowboys ended Iowa’s perfect regular season.

At the Big Ten Championships, Lee picked up two easy wins to kick off the tournament — an 8-0 major decision over Minnesota’s Sean Russell and a pin of Indiana’s Elijah Oliver in 1:37.

The victories catapulted Lee into the Big Ten championship at 125 pounds, in which he faced one of the two grapplers who beat him earlier in the season, Rivera.

But avenging his loss at Midlands didn’t happen — Rivera won with a takedown in sudden victory, 6-4.

Then Lee caught fire. The Hawkeye 125-pounder rallied off three-straight bonus-point victories at the NCAA meet to reach the semifinals. There, he got revenge on Piccininni with an 11-4 decision.

A 5-0 shutout of Virginia’s Jack Mueller in the finals gave Lee his second national title in as many years.

Laulauga Tausaga

If staying focused is a problem for people, they may want to call Tausaga, because she could surely help.

She started her season strong, and she didn’t let up as it came to a close. She placed first in the discus in the final eight meets of the season, starting with a victory on a 61.74-meter toss at the Sun Angel Classic and ending with a 63.26-meter heave to become Iowa’s first outdoor NCAA women’s champion in 34 years.

In that stretch, she failed to reach the 60-meter mark only twice, ensuring that her consistency was as equally impressive as the distance.

Tausaga excelled in the state of Iowa throughout the outdoor season. She began with victories in the discus, shot put, and hammer throw at the Musco Twilight at the Cretzmeyer Track before picking up the champion’s flag at the Drake Relays in the discus with a toss of 57.13 meters.

She concluded competition in the Hawkeye State with a throw of 60.28 meters at the Big Ten meet to take home yet another gold medal. Tausaga paired the first-place finish with a bronze medal in the shot put, throwing 17.17 meters.

Tausaga saved her two best throws for last. Her throw of 62.69 meters in the discus at the NCAA West Region preliminary round set up her final act: a 63.26-meter toss that was good enough for first in the country at the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas.

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