Iowa wrestling takeaways: Tom Brands talks Spencer Lee, his lineup and more

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Spencer Lee made his collegiate wrestling debut over the weekend, putting forth a dominant 3-0 showing at the UNI Open. The Iowa freshman won by a 16-0 technical fall and then finished with two pins.

Tom Brands, the Hawkeyes’ wrestling coach, more or less expected those results.

Iowa head coach Tom Brands watches Phillip Laux wrestle Illinois' Dylan Duncan at 133 pounds at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. Duncan won by decision, 6-1.

“Yeah, I saw his matches,” Brands said Wednesday morning inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. “All of them. You know what, I’m not surprised. He’s good. He’s good.”

When pressed if Lee (at 125 pounds) and fellow true freshman Jacob Warner (197), who went 4-1 and took third at the UNI Open, would compete at the Midlands Championships on Dec. 29-30, Brands was coy.

“We’ll see,” Brands said. “I’m not doing that. Last year, I got myself in some trouble. Some names were released before I could talk to my team, and that’s not a good way to proceed. We’ll have 15 guys there, and maybe one or two or three more. We’re looking forward to the Midlands.

“We’re going to have some young firepower in there that won’t be scoring points, and we’ll have 10 guys in there that are scoring points for this team. That’s the next thing on the calendar we’re getting ready for.”

Both Lee and Warner said afterward that the plan is for them to both compete at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Both are excited to show what they can do.

“That’s the plan, yep,” Warner said. “I’m excited. The Midlands is like my big tournament of the year since I’m redshirting, so it’ll be a good tournament. There will be a lot of good guys there, so I’m excited to see what I can do.”


Brands hinted during the team’s media day in November that Lee could perhaps come out of a redshirt this season and begin his Iowa wrestling career as a true freshman. Lee’s performance at the UNI Open only heightened those expectations, despite being against less-than-elite competition.

On Wednesday, Brands gave his take on the situation.

“Because there’s excitement and unknown,” he said, “and then you look at our lightweights and how they’re doing, and I think our fans are used to lightweights doing well. Then you look at — the common theme out there is the best kids at the high school level are better than they’ve ever been.

“They’re more ready than ever, than even when Randy Lewis wrestled, or when Joe Williams came out of redshirt or Lincoln McIlravy, and those guys did OK. And when I say OK, they did well. Just look up there” — Brands then pointed to the wall of All-Americans inside the Iowa practice room.

“These guys are as ready as our veterans, so our fans are very knowledgeable, and they want to be entertained. It’s an entertainment business.

"Lee is an entertainer.”

Brands has faced this decision before. He has a history of redshirting star recruits for the sake of their development. Guys such as Derek St. John, Brandon Sorensen and Michael Kemerer, for example, all spent their true freshman seasons in redshirt.

St. John went on to become an NCAA champion and a four-time All-American. Brandon Sorensen has a chance to also become a four-time All-American this season, and Kemerer is on a similar pace, barring anything unforeseen.

To that, Brands said each case is different. The same goes for Lee.

“They’re day to day, event by event, tournament to tournament,” Brands said. “There’s a lot of buzz about (Spencer Lee) and maybe (Jacob) Warner, too. Even (Aaron) Costello … these freshmen are a little bit different.”

Iowa recruit Jacob Warner, left, attempts a takedown at Friday's Junior World Team Trials at the Devaney Center in Lincoln, Neb.

An update at 133

Over the weekend, Brands brought both Phillip Laux and Paul Glynn to wrestle at 133 against Rutgers and Maryland. Glynn got the call against Rutgers’ Scott Delvecchio and lost 12-4. Laux went against Maryland’s Jhared Simmons and won 13-3.

Brands clarified that the spot remains somewhat up for grabs.

“We’ll see,” he said. “We have two good options there as well. I think that Laux is a little bit more ahead.”

Taking on Terry?

A picture made the rounds on Twitter of Lee practicing with associate head coach Terry Brands. On Wednesday, Lee offered some insight into what wrestling with Terry is actually like.

“He’s the strongest dude I’ve ever wrestled,” Lee said. “He’s so strong. Love wrestling with Terry. (The picture) was more sparring. It’s just a lot of learning situations where we try different positions and just roll around and see where it goes from there.

“It’s not really like live hard, but I’ve gone live with him before. It’s been a while. He’s awesome. He’s the man.”

Lee added that he’s already gleaned a lot from both Tom and Terry Brands since he’s been in Iowa City.

“Terry does a good job of telling me what I need to do, so I just listen to what the coaches tell me,” he said. “They’re as knowledgeable as any coaches out there. In my mind, they’re the best coaches in the world.

“Right now, I need to keep moving my hands and my feet and get to my offense. I’ve been working on that a lot.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.