Iowa’s Lee is the one
Hawkeye junior the overwhelming Hodge Trophy winner
WEBSTER CITY — Spencer Lee was robbed. Is there any other way to put it?
Iowa’s 125-pound wrestler, arguably the most dominant figure on the college scene throughout the winter months, was in position to become a three-time national champion before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the NCAA tournament earlier this month. He also had a better than decent chance of making the U.S. Olympic team, but that dream was also taken away, for at least the next year anyway.
So now it’s on to consolation prizes.
Lee, a junior out of Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Penn., was awarded college wrestling’s most coveted postseason accolade on Monday when he was named the winner of the Hodge Trophy by Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine.
Lee received a record 52 of the 57 first-place votes for the award given annually to college wrestling’s top individual. Ohio State senior Kollin Moore finished second with three votes, while Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin earned the other vote. There were eight total finalists.
“Winning the Hodge Trophy and being recognized by fans, past winners, and members of the media is certainly an honor,” Lee said in a press release from the University of Iowa. “The criteria behind the trophy is in line with the values of the Iowa wrestling program, and I want to thank my teammates, coaches and fans for their endless support.
“I also want to congratulate the other finalists. No one got the end they wanted, but this is still a season we should all be proud of.”
Lee is the third Hawkeye to win the award. He follows in the footsteps of Mark Ironside and Brent Metcalf, who were Hodge Trophy winners in 1998 and 2008, respectively.
Dominant doesn’t even begin to describe Lee’s junior campaign, where opponents had trouble just getting out of the first period. He went 18-0, won a Big Ten Conference title, and was named the 2020 Big Ten Wrestler of the Year and the NCAA’s Most Dominant Wrestler at the Division I level.
Lee stepped onto the mat 17 times — one of his wins was by forfeit — and gutted the competition. He outscored his foes 234-18. He racked up nine technical falls, four in the first period and five early in the second period. He also put up four pins and three major decisions.
Lee’s bonus point rate of 94.4 percent was the highest for a Hodge Trophy winner since Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson — a four-time national champion — hit the 95 percent mark in 2002.
Lee gave up just two takedowns and one reversal the entire season.
“When you talk about 234 points to 18, that has got to be unprecedented,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said in the press release. “When you look at a guy who can dominate by taking you down and letting you up and taking you down; that is one thing. But to get on top of a guy and score 17 straight points in 2 1/2 minutes, that is a whole different animal and tell-tale of dominance.
“Give Spencer Lee full credit.”
A No. 3 seed in each of the past two NCAA tournaments that finished with him on top of the podium, Lee was the No. 1 seed entering the 2020 tournament that was set to take place in Minneapolis. He was an overwhelming favorite to make it 3-for-3, as 12 of his regular season wins came against NCAA qualifiers.
Lee was the catalyst for the top-ranked Hawkeyes, who were poised to win their first team championship since 2010. Iowa ran through the regular season unbeaten in dual meets, and it also won team titles at the Midlands and Big Ten tournament.
Iowa has won a total of 23 national championships, second only to Oklahoma State (34).
Barring an Olympic redshirt season in 2020-21, Lee will again lead an Iowa team that will be among the favorites on the national scene. The Hawkeyes are expected to return nine of their 10 starters, all of whom were national qualifiers.
Only Pat Lugo will graduate. Lugo was the NCAA No. 1 seed at 149.