We knew it might happen. Tomorrow night, it will — the redshirt’s coming off, and Spencer Lee will wrestle in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It’s go time, ladies and gentlemen.
It comes after a sixth-place finish at the Midlands over the weekend, where Lee reached the semifinals, which he lost and shortly thereafter medically forfeited his consolation match. “Injury” be damned, Brands and his coaching staff saw enough, the Hawkeyes have their guy at the sport’s lightest weight.
While this decision from coach and wrestler has repercussions in the long term, we’ll stay nearsighted for now. Through the first half of the season, the Hawkeyes struggled big time to replace the production of Thomas Gilman, with redshirt freshman Justin Stickley managing a 3-4 record in duals and failing to place at Midlands.
The flip? A three-time world and Pennsylvania state champion comes onto a team spending all its resources attempting to move back to the pinnacle of the collegiate world. Now.
This helps that pursuit big time. What was a lineup with major holes three weeks ago looks far more dangerous after a bolstering courtesy of Lee and Alex Marinelli. Scream it from the mountaintops, Michael Kemerer, Brandon Sorensen & Co. have a group around them that can no longer be written out of the NCAA title race.
Granted, it doesn’t bring fourth-ranked Iowa above Ohio State, Penn State, or NC State, but with all due respect to Stickley, give me Lee’s chances in that field over his.
Second-ranked Nick Suriano of Rutgers walked his way to a tech fall against Stickley earlier this season, so Lee won’t see him until Big Tens and potentially the national tournament.
Even with him out of the way, Lee will be tested almost immediately. He gets Rayvon Foley Friday, followed by No. 4 Nick Piccininni of Oklahoma State and No. 1 Nathan Tomasello the following week. Another top-10 opponent in Drew Martin of Michigan is scheduled after that.
While most of this post has been peaches and roses, I’d be remiss not to offer at least one sentence through a cold lens. Lee’s ACL surgery back in March is if nothing else, mildly concerning, and the wrestling equivalent of a Drew Ott-esque situation would be painstaking for a dice roll like this.
Even should injuries arise past this year — and this takes away from the above metaphor — that redshirt won’t expire after a his 20th birthday, folks.
This underwhelming — to say the least — Iowa squad lacked the firepower at the top that has long been a hallmark under Brands. If all goes according to plan, it’s back.
That firepower is Iowa’s best bet to return to where it should be.