Star freshman Spencer Lee to shed redshirt, wrestle for Iowa on Friday against Michigan State

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It’s official: Spencer Lee has been freed.

Lee, Iowa’s star freshman lightweight, will shed his redshirt and wrestle for Iowa on Friday when the Hawkeyes host Michigan State inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The dual is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Incoming freshman Spencer Lee poses for a photo in the wrestling room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

The decision came four days after Lee competed unattached at the Midlands Championships, wrestling at 125 pounds. The Murrysville, Pennsylvania, native dazzled with three impressive victories Friday, but dropped his semifinal bout to Oregon State’s Ronnie Bresser, 3-1, and defaulted to sixth place afterward.

That was Lee’s second taste of collegiate wrestling action. His first came back in early December, when he went 3-0 at the UNI Open in Cedar Falls. His performances at both competitions excited wrestling fans in Iowa and beyond.

“He’s dynamic. He’s explosive. He can score points in a hurry. He’s relentless in all positions. That’s what we love,” Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said at the Midlands. “He could be the immediate future of that weight class.”

After seven collegiate matches, Lee will get his chance to don the legendary all-black singlet with the block letters “IOWA” down the left leg. He will likely face Michigan State’s Rayvon Foley on Friday, who is 14-3 overall.

Lee’s addition to Iowa’s lineup will elevate the Hawkeyes — currently ranked 4th nationally by Trackwrestling — into the NCAA trophy conversation. He will also be considered a national title contender at a weight where as many as 10 guys could win it.

“There’s expectations,” Brands said, “and he knows what those expectations are.”


Lee came to the program after a successful prep career at Franklin Regional High School, where he was teammates with fellow Hawkeye Michael Kemerer, Iowa’s 157-pound All-American. Lee won three state championships and three age-level freestyle world titles.

As such, Lee was the consensus No. 1 overall recruit of the 2017 class. He chose Iowa over Penn State, instantly becoming the most decorated wrestler to commit to Brands, and the first consensus No. 1 recruit to pick the Hawkeyes since Mark Perry in 2003.

Upon his arrival, questions swarmed about whether Lee would compete as a true freshman or spend the entire year in redshirt, a situation that Brands has previously faced with other stellar recruits. It was a hot topic during the team’s media day in November, when Brands hinted that, perhaps, Lee could wrestle this season.

“Spencer Lee is a unique individual,” Brands said then. “He’s a competitor from the word go. And you do what's best by the individual, and we'll certainly do that.

“And in Spencer Lee's case, it might be best thing for him to compete and not sit him, not put him on the shelf. And not that he would get dusty — you know, using a metaphor there. But it might not be the best thing for him. But we're going to be very careful with what we do.”

Spencer Lee defeated Edinboro's Sean Russell by a 15-0 technical fall during the first day of competition at the Midlands Championships on Friday. Lee has advanced to the 125-pound semifinals.

Lee, to his credit, towed the company line whenever he discussed the topic with reporters. He repeatedly stated that Brands and the coaching staff would have the final say on his redshirt decision.

“I’m going to do whatever the coaches want me to do,” Lee said during media day. “We’re going to make the decision together. I mean, of course I want to wrestle. Why would I want to sit the bench and take a year off? I’m not that kind of guy.

“I’m not going to say, yeah, I’m going to wrestle. Of course, I want to. But we’re going to do what’s best for me and what’s best for the team.”

That decision came Wednesday. Spencer Lee has been freed. The rest is up to him.

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