Spencer Lee finishes 26-0 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as Iowa wrestling trounces OK State 28-7

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — On a day when the Iowa wrestling program honored its outgoing seniors, it seemed fitting that Spencer Lee, the Hawkeyes' all-time 125-pounder, left Carver-Hawkeye Arena the same way he came in — that is, with a sub-minute pin in front of thousands of die-hard fans.

In his final match at Carver, before an announced crowd of 14,905, Lee cartwheeled out of an attack by Oklahoma State's Reece Witcraft, landed with Witcraft on his back, and settled in for a 51-second fall. Lee, a three-time national champion, finishes with a perfect 26-0 record at Carver.

"He kind of ducked me, so I kind of cartwheeled over him, and I caught his head, and just planted him on his back," Lee said afterward. He continued: "Just looking for transitions. That's how we preach wrestling, to score more points and to keep scoring points."

Iowa's Spencer Lee reacts after scoring a fall at 125 pounds during Sunday's dual vs. Oklahoma State.

Lee's pin was one of many highlights for the second-ranked Hawkeyes. They won 8-of-10 matches and rolled to a 28-7 win over No. 17 Oklahoma State, capping the regular season with a 15-1 dual-meet record. Iowa has won three in a row over the Cowboys as well as seven of the last nine meetings.

The Hawkeyes won the first six bouts for a 21-0 lead before Oklahoma State, now 14-3, answered. The name of the game early was close victories. Before Lee's pin, the first five matches were all decided by four points or less. Iowa won them all:

  • Patrick Kennedy scored two third-period takedowns for a 7-4 win over Wyatt Sheets at 165;
  • Nelson Brands patiently finished a single-leg on the edge and beat Dustin Plott 3-2 at 174;
  • Abe Assad, in his first match back in four weeks, scrambled to a late second-period takedown and won 4-2 over Travis Wittlake at 184;
  • Jacob Warner, on his 24th birthday, rallied from an early 2-0 hole to win 3-2 over Luke Surber at 197;
  • and Tony Cassioppi scored an early takedown and piled up more than two minutes of riding-time for a ho-hum 4-0 win over Konner Doucet at heavyweight.

That put Iowa up 15-0 at the intermission — and then Lee hit a cartwheel and secured the pin, which injected some serious juice into this place out of the break. For all intents and purposes, that effectively shut down the dual.

Iowa's Real Woods scored an 11-0 major decision at 141.

"Winning close matches is important," Iowa coach Tom Brands said afterward. "Getting your hand raised the right way is important. There's always things that you're not satisfied about. I think we spent too much time on the edge of the mat, especially in those last two matches.

"We want to emphasize that we're a dominant team, and sometimes dominant wrestlers have to win close matches. This time of the year, it is even more important to do what you do best."

On the whole, Iowa outscored Oklahoma State in total match points 43-27 — 11 of the Cowboys' points came from Daton Fix, who beat Brody Teske 11-3 at 133 — and doubled up the Cowboys in total takedowns, 10-5. Seven of the 10 matches were decided by three points or less. The Hawkeyes went 6-1 in those matches, which includes Max Murin's 4-3 win over Victor Voinovich at 149.

Assad's match was particularly impressive. Wittlake, a past All-American (down at 165, but still), scored a reversal 13 seconds into the second period for a 2-0 lead. Assad, with his left elbow wrapped, escaped to come within 2-1, then won a scramble for a takedown before the buzzer sounded to lead 3-2 entering the third.

"I was in on a single and I knew there wasn't a lot of time left," Assad said. "I squeezed my hands. He started to peel my hands. At that point, I had to do whatever I could to not get taken down. Once I rolled, I was in on that single, and that limp-arm is something I've done dozens of times. Got the takedown and ended the period on top.

"I hadn't wrestled a lot of live in the couple of weeks I had off. The first period was a little slow, but I found a groove and was just stingy. That's what's going to win close matches. I've said that for a long time. I need to win close matches, probably a dozen more to get through the national tournament."

Oklahoma State got on the board thanks to Fix and Kaden Gfeller's 3-2 tiebreaker win over Cobe Siebrecht at 157 in the dual's final match, but the team result was well-secured by then. Afterward, the Iowa program celebrated Senior Day, honoring Drew Bennett, Joe Kelly, Lee, Warner, Murin and manager Madison Mashek.

Lee, of course, went last during the ceremony, with the public-address announcer slowly announcing his résumé: a three-time NCAA champion, a two-time Hodge Trophy winner, a two-time Big Ten Wrestler of the Year, a James E. Sullivan Award Winner, on and on. He has won 52 straight matches dating to 2019, and he is 92-5 overall for his career.

"Spencer Lee is a lifelong ambassador," Brands said. "It's not just his wrestling. It's how he conveys his love for the program … the thing I appreciate about Spencer Lee, he's been a staunch ally in rebuilding this program and putting us in contention to win titles, and we won a title. He had a big, big part of that."

His legendary career started, officially, on Jan. 5, 2018, when Brands pulled his redshirt and inserted him into the starting lineup. Lee recorded a 46-second fall over Michigan State's Rayvon Foley that night, taking Foley down with his patented fireman's carry and holding him for the fall. It was so fast that not all of the 8,486 were in their seats yet, a blink-and-you-missed-it kind of performance.

Iowa's Spencer Lee reacts after scoring a fall at 125 pounds during Sunday's dual vs. Oklahoma State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

No Iowa fan has missed Lee's matches since. On Sunday, Lee went sixth, right after the break, allowing the sold-out crowd to settle comfortably back into their seats before he recorded the 22nd first-period pin of his career. They stood in a frenzy — maybe a louder one on this day, given that it was his last in this renowned wrestling building.

Afterward, Lee stood up, unsnapped his headgear, and raised his arms, savoring the moment. As he walked off, he flashed a heart sign with his hands, and the cheers grew louder again, a worthy recognition for one of the greatest to ever wear Iowa's all-black singlet.

"I was going to run off the mat, like business as usual, but then I realized like two or three steps into it that this was it," Lee said. "This was the last time I was going to be on that mat, ever. I was like, 'oh,' so I gave the heart sign to thank all the fans for being there for me. It's been awesome.

"My dad sent me a text, 'Started with a pin, ended with a pin.' I didn't even think about that. But that's pretty cool. I just don't think it's hit me yet."

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

#2 Iowa 28, #17 Oklahoma State 7

  • 165lbs: #7 Patrick Kennedy (IA) dec. #23 Wyatt Sheets (OKST), 7-4
  • 174lbs: #14 Nelson Brands (IA) dec. #11 Dustin Plott (OKST), 3-2
  • 184lbs: #12 Abe Assad (IA) dec. #10 Travis Wittlake (OKST), 4-2
  • 197lbs: #12 Jacob Warner (IA) dec. #17 Luke Surber (OKST), 3-2
  • 285lbs: #3 Tony Cassioppi (IA) dec. #22 Konner Doucet (OKST), 4-0
  • 125lbs: #1 Spencer Lee (IA) pinned #28 Reece Witcraft (OKST) in :51
  • 133lbs: #2 Daton Fix (OKST) maj. dec. #16 Brody Teske (IA), 11-3
  • 141lbs: #2 Real Woods (IA) maj. dec. #15 Carter Young (OKST), 11-0
  • 149lbs: #6 Max Murin (IA) dec. #20 Victor Voinovich (OKST), 4-3
  • 157lbs: #9 Kaden Gfeller (OKST) dec. #13 Cobe Siebrecht (IA), 3-2 (TB1)
  • Rankings from InterMat.