Iowa men’s wrestling earns six All-Americans Friday at 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships

Top-seeded Spencer Lee, who was chasing his fourth national title, fell in the semifinals on Friday night.


Ayrton Breckenridge

No. 11 seeded 174-pound Iowa’s Nelson Brands wrestles No. 9 seeded 174-pound Illinois’ Edmond Ruth during session four of the NCAA Wrestling Championships at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. on Friday, March 17, 2023. Brands defeated Ruth by decision, 4-1.

Matt McGowan, Sports Reporter

Top-seeded Iowa men’s wrestler Spencer Lee was pinned during the semifinals of the NCAA Championships on Friday at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, ending a 58-match winning streak for the 125-pounder. Iowa is second in team points, trailing Penn State, 116.5 to 77. 

The Hawkeyes enter the final day of the tournament having earned six All-Americans. Lee now joins Iowa’s Nelson Brands, Tony Cassioppi, Max Murin, and Jacob Warner in the consolation semifinals. The lone Iowa grappler still vying for an individual national title is 141-pounder Real Woods. 

Lee, now a five-time All-American, was searching to become Iowa’s first-ever four-time national champion. The three-time Big Ten individual title holder was undefeated in NCAA competition and had collected three bonus-point decisions this tournament. 

After pinning Air Force’s No. 33 seed Tucker Owens in 36 seconds at the start of the bracket, Lee clinched a 17-0 tech fall victory over Michigan’s No. 16 seed Jack Medley, and then in the quarterfinals earned a 14-4 major decision win over Lock Haven’s No. 8 seed Anthony Noto. 

In his post-match media availability, Lee wasn’t exactly satisfied with his win over Noto, saying, “I need to score more points. It’s that simple.” 

Just like in his Big Ten championship bout on March 5 against Liam Cronin, Lee scored less than 10 points in his semifinal fight against Purdue No. 4 seed Matt Ramos. In the Hawkeyes’ trip to West Lafayette this season, Lee pinned the Boilermaker in 2:54, but just two months later found himself glued to the mat. 

Ramos jumped out to an early lead, piling on a takedown and a two-point near fall in the first period. Down 4-1 entering the second, Lee responded with a four-point near-fall and collected 1:35 of riding time. With 50 seconds remaining in the third, Lee scored a takedown after a successful challenge from Hawkeye head coach Tom Brands. With Lee ahead, 7-4, the Purdue sophomore evened the duel at seven apiece, then pinned Lee with one second left in the match. 

RELATEDWATCH: Iowa men’s wrestling’s three-time national champion Spencer Lee upset in 2023 NCAA semifinals

“His family is with him, he has great support,” Brands said of Lee in the coach’s media availability after Session IV. “The cliche, easy thing to say is he has to move on but it’s hard. This is really hard, but you’ve still got to move on. As easy as it is to say, that’s really the next step in all this.

“To me, it’s tragic right now,” Brands added. “I know that [Lee] is best when he’s wrestling, I know that he’s best when he’s flowing and moving, he’s got wicked quickness, and I don’t know if he was in that mode. We’ve got to move on, the next step is to take the next step.”

Following Lee’s upset, Iowa won seven straight matches, starting with top-seeded Woods’ 11-1 major decision victory over Nebraska’s No. 4 seed Brock Hardy. In the consolation bracket, Nelson Brands, Murin, and Warner went 2-0 in their Session IV matches and now have a shot at third place on Saturday. Tom Brands dedicated those wins to Lee. 

“Real Woods got a win; did it for Spencer,” Brands said. “We won six matches in a row on the back side; we did it for Spencer. Sometimes it’s easy to fold up your tent when your leader goes down, but these guys are principled and awesome. It doesn’t take the sting away – the sting is always there – there are just so many things going on.” 

After getting bounced from the championship bracket by Cornell’s top-seeded 149-pounder Yianni Diakomihalis in the third round, the eighth-seeded Murin entered the consolation bracket with a bang, scoring a 3-2 win over Michigan’s No. 22 seed Chance Lamer. Then, he topped Minnesota’s No. 10 seed Michael Blockhus in sudden victory. 

Brands, the No. 11 seed at 174 pounds, clinched All-American status with his 4-1 win over Illinois’ No. 9 Seed Edmund Ruth in the consolation bracket. Brands continued the attack in the next round, collecting an early takedown and reversal in his 6-1 decision over Missouri’s No. 7 seed Peyton Mocco. 

Eliminated from title contention in the second round of the main bracket, 197-pounder and No. 14 Warner never looked back in the consolation bracket, collecting two wins during Session III. In the next session, pulled off an upset over Nebraska’s No. 8 seed Silas Allred. Following that 1-0 victory, the now five-time All-American kept his senior season alive with a 4-2 win over Cornell’s No. 10 seed Jacob Cardenas. 

Similar to Lee, Cassioppi was one win away from reaching the heavyweight title bout but was unable to conquer Michigan’s top-seeded Mason Parris in the semis. Parris, who is undefeated against Cassioppi in his career, dominated the Hawkeye to a 16-1 tech fall victory in 5:12. 

Here are the matchups for tomorrow’s matchups for Iowa: 

141 Pound Title 

No. 1 Real Woods (IA) vs. No. 2 Andrew Alirez (UNCO) 

  • Both wrestlers are undefeated on the season, combining for 47 wins.
  • Alirez has a pin and three regular decision victories so far in the tournament.

Consolation Semifinals 

No. 1 Spencer Lee (IA) vs. No. 10 Brandon Courtney (ASU)

  • Courtney is 14-5 on the regular season and has earned two straight regular decision wins in the consolation bracket.

No. 8 Max Murin (IA) vs. No. 3 Kyle Parco (ASU)

  • Parco is 26-5 on the regular season but is coming off a major decision loss to Ohio State’s top-seeded Sammy Sasso in the championship semifinals.

No. 11 Nelson Brands (IA) vs. No. 4 Chris Foca (COR)

  • Foca is 27-2 on the regular season and is coming off a shutout regular decision loss to Penn State’s top-seeded and undefeated Carter Starocci in the semis of the main bracket. 

No. 14 Jacob Warner (IA) vs. No. 3 Rocky Elam (MIZZ) 

  • The Tiger is 13-2 on the regular season and is coming off an upset loss to South Dakota State’s No. 7 seed Tanner Sloan in the championship semis.

No. 4 Tony Cassioppi (IA) vs. No. 10 Zach Elam (MIZZ) 

  • Zach, who is the older brother of Rocky, is 22-4 on the regular season and is coming off a shutout victory in the consolation quarterfinals.