Iowa wrestling was already putting together a very good recruiting class for 2017 -- they've picked up verbal commitments from a trio of Top 50 recruits already in the form of lightweights Justin Meija (#18 overall, per Intermat) and Jason Renteria (#32 overall, per Intermat) and middleweight Luke Troy (#44 overall, per Intermat). That good class just became a great one because they got a verbal commitment from Spencer Lee, the #1 recruit in the country, on Wednesday:
Lee, who projects at 125 lbs in college and made his announcement on Flowrestling, is an incredible talent and one the most coveted recruit to hit Iowa in well over a decade. He's a two-time freestyle world champion at the Cadet and Junior levels and a three-time Pennsylvania state champion. He hasn't lost a match during those three seasons and in his most recent Pennsylvania State Tournament he had three first-period pins and a 15-0 second-period technical fall in the championship match. He's the #1 overall recruit in the 2017 class, per Intermat and Flowrestling, in addition to being #2 in Flo's overall pound-for-pound rankings (the only non-senior in the top five of those rankings). He is, simply, an absolutely stupendous talent. To put this in the context of another sport, imagine if Iowa basketball had landed Ben Simmons last year. Lee is that level of recruit.
He's also -- believe it or not -- the first #1 overall recruit to choose Iowa since Mark Perry committed to Iowa in 2003. That fact is important because it continues a trend of Iowa starting to land more top-tier recruits. 2017 will be the third-straight year Iowa has landed a top-10 wrestler, with Lee joining Michael Kemerer in 2015 and Alex Marinelli this year. One of the key factors in Penn State's rise to the top of the college wrestling world has been their ability to bring in top-tier talent year after year after year. Iowa still has work to do to catch up to them, but this is a great get to help Iowa gain ground on the Nittany Lions. The fact that Lee is from Penn State's backyard -- Pennsylvania -- and that he's at a weight where Penn State is seeking future help (although they did land a top lightweight talent this year in Nick Suriano, #2 overall)... well, that just makes it even sweeter.
Lee is also exciting because he's a perfect example of the sort of wrestler Iowa fans love to watch: all-action, intensely aggressive, constantly looking to score points and dominate opponents. He has multiple attacks from neutral and considerable ability to turn opponents on the mat and score points. He should be incredibly fun to watch in black and gold.
So why did Lee choose Iowa? He calmly and coherently listed off ten reasons in his announcement on Flo, citing the family atmosphere in the Iowa program, Iowa's consistent history of success, and the energy at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, among other reasons. But the top two reasons? "Number two, Tom Brands ... number one, Terry Brands." Iowa has the two best lightweight coaches in the country -- period. Tom Brands has been the head coach at Iowa for a decade and over that span there have been 20 NCAA finalist spots at 125 and 133 lbs -- 10 of those 20 spots have been filled by Iowa wrestlers, including three NCAA champions (Matt McDonough twice at 125 lbs, Tony Ramos once at 133 lbs). That success has continued after college, too -- an Iowa wrestler has represented the United States at 57 KG at the World Championships or the Olympic Games for the last three years. If you're a top lightweight and you want to excel in college -- and in the freestyle ranks after college -- you're not going to do any better than Iowa.
Iowa also got a tremendous start to their 2018 recruiting class by landing a commitment from Gavin Teasdale, a two-time Pennsylvania state champion who, like Lee, has also gone undefeated so far in his high school career. He's also a big-time point scorer, as evidenced by the fact that he scored 96 (!) points in his four matches at the Pennsylvania State Tournament this year. That's an average of 24 points per match. Teasdale, who also announced his commitment on Flowrestling, is the #3 overall recruit in the 2018 class, per Intermat and Flowrestling. He's ranked #1 at 113 lbs right now but has been growing rapidly and projects at 133 lbs (or bigger) in college. Teasdale is sort of relegated to "below the fold" coverage because of the enormity of Lee's commitment, but make no mistake -- his commitment is a very, very big deal for Iowa. Lee, Teasdale, and Marinelli (#3 overall in the 2016 class) are three of the absolute best recruits Iowa has landed in the Brands Era and they are all poised to do big things for Iowa when they finally hit the mat in black and gold singlets.
Lee and Teasdale are also both members of the Young Guns Wrestling Club, an elite club wrestling program in western Pennsylvania that has been turning out top-tier wrestlers for a while now. They join a few other recent recruits -- Kemerer in 2015 and Kaleb Young (#26 overall in 2016) -- in coming to Iowa from that program. The Young Guns program is run by Jody Strittmatter, a former Iowa wrestler. Building a recruiting pipeline there is tremendously exciting news for Iowa both now and in the future.
The commitments of Lee and Teasdale gives Iowa a dizzying amount of incoming talent at the lower weights. Iowa is bringing in Carter Happel (#36 overall) this year; he likely projects at 141 lbs. As noted, Iowa also has verbal commitments from Justin Meija (#18 overall) and Jason Renteria (#32 overall) for the class of 2017; they both project at 125 lbs or 133 lbs. That's a lot of talent to try to squeeze into three weights... but it's also a great problem to have. The battle for starting spots will be ferocious. Penn State has stacked talent on top of talent in recent years -- to great effect.
Here's a look at what Iowa's depth charts might look like over the next few years.
Tom Brands has famously never started a true freshman directly out of high school during his tenure at Iowa (Nathan Burak did start as a true freshman, but he also spent a year between high school and Iowa at the Olympic Training Center, which was basically a de facto redshirt year)... but he's also never had true freshmen as good as Marinelli or Lee. I think they'll be far too good to redshirt for a season. (I also have Renteria starting at 133 lbs in 2017-18, but I'm less sure about that -- Iowa doesn't have a ton of other options at 133, though.) Don't take these depth charts as gospel by any means -- wrestlers can (and will) change weights between now and next season (let alone the season after that) and I generally listed the backups in order of age, but it does give you a rough look at how Iowa's lineup might look. And there's a lot of exciting potential to be found there.
Welcome to Iowa, Spencer and Gavin -- we can't wait to see you start competing. Bring on the points, bring on the pins... and, hopefully, bring on the titles.