21 Questions with NCAA Champ Spencer Lee

Spencer Lee won an NCAA title last year as a true freshman for Iowa and is currently ranked 3rd in the country at 125 pounds. He is also a Cadet World champion, 2x Junior World champion, and 3x Pennsylvania state champion. 

1. So what is your biggest flaw?

I’m very short (5’3″) but don’t worry, my girlfriend is 5’10” so I got that covered.

2. Is she actually 5’10”? If so, what is the biggest obstacle of your relationship? 

Yes, my girlfriend is actually 5’10”. We met when we were in 6th grade so I was actually taller at the time. I’d say the biggest obstacle is that the wrestling team pokes fun that my girlfriend is so tall, but my response is always that I had to give my future sons a chance for opportunities that my height won’t allow me!

3. Aside from wrestling, what is your best talent/skill?

Probably losing things. I have lost more headgear than I can remember. I’ve lost shoes, game consoles, gear, teammates in Europe, etc. My high school coaches told me that the only other person they ever coached that shared this same passion for the habit of losing things was former Franklin Regional High School and Penn State Wrestler Nico Megaludis.

4. Have the Brands brothers ever gotten exceptionally pissed at you? If so, for what?

Yes they have, because when I first got here I had never been in a room that is as tough as Iowa’s so I didn’t know how to respond to getting my b*tt beat. They have done a good job keeping me calm and ready to improve no matter what kind of adversity is thrown at me.

5. What was the highlight of your wrestling career?

Finding my shoes and clothes at my first world championships prior to a match. I lost my third match to a wrestler who I was certain was going to lose and put me out, so in my anger I took off all of my clothes and threw my shoes down a stairwell at the stadium and went and sat alone in a hallway where I couldn’t hear anything. My coaches came running up to me and said I was being paged to the mat and that they had been looking for me. I had to run around and find my clothes, get dressed, and then get to the mat in time to wrestle. Getting that done is a true highlight of my career

6. What was the low point of your wrestling career?

When I was 7-years-old, I lost the first 5 matches of my season all by technical fall or by a score of 10–0.

The day after I turned 7, I asked to go to a tournament and the only one we could find was an “odd age” tournament for 9U. I was in a pool with 5 wrestlers and got technical falled 4 times that day.

A week later, I went to another tournament in Ohio and we stayed at a hotel. That night, I played in the pool with this kid named Drew Mattin. The next morning, I ended up wrestling him in the first round. The referee blew the whistle and Drew headlocked me to my back and held me there for the entire period. We stood up and I was losing 5–0. The ref restarted us on our feet for the second period and in about 3 seconds, Drew headlocked me to my back again and held me there for the entire period, and I lost for the 5th straight time by a score of 10–0. It’s funny that Drew and I wrestled our true freshman season this past year in college.

Drew wrestles for Michigan and is currently ranked 13th at 125 pounds.

7. What’s a fun fact about Austin DeSanto and what’s it like to wrestle him in practice?

He is a ball of energy. The dude is always ready to work and he has a great sense of humor. Wrestling him in practice is tough because the dude doesn’t know what “tired” means. We all love him and we joke that he’s a wild man, and then he just smiles and says something like ‘wanna go today?” no matter who said it, which evokes more laughter.

Austin is currently ranked 3rd at 133 pounds.

8. On rare occasions, DeSanto gets mild scrutiny from the wrestling community for being overly passionate during/at the end of matches. Do you have anything to say to back him up or refute those amateur opinions?

I know Austin doesn’t mean to actually offend people, but he has gotten out of control; he is on it and we have his back and believe in him. Austin’s an emotional athlete and always will be, but he knows he is a representation of not only himself, but of the University of Iowa as well, and needs to tone it down.

9. Great answer. What do you typically eat/drink after weigh-ins?

If the dual is going to start at 125, then I usually go with gourmet dark chocolate from France. It’s light on the stomach and gives me a nice energy boost. If they draw to decide the starting weight and I don’t have to wrestle until after half time, I’ll also eat some calimari. So my favorite pre-match meal would have to be dark chocolate and calamari.

10. What’s your least favorite part of Iowa practices/workouts?

The amount of games we play is tiring. Dodgeball, kickball, pickleball, mat ball, spikeball, wall ball, capture the flag, hungry fox, sharks and minnows, red rover…it’s always something to have “fun” and sometimes I just want to wrestle.

11. What’s something about Thomas Gilman that most wrestling fans would probably find interesting?

He’s a great coach and mentor for everyone here. Most people would find it interesting that he is actually a very nice person. Absolutely one of the best. He also rides a really goofy bicycle to workout, through rain, snow, and sun.

Thomas Gilman is a World Silver Medalist and a former 3x All American for Iowa at 125 pounds.

12. Any funny or interesting hotel stories with your teammates?

One time, my girlfriend was sitting in my room talking to me when Warner (Iowa’s 5th ranked 197 pounder Jacob Warner) came into the room, stripped down, urinated without closing the door, and then didn’t wash his hands…she was mortified but don’t worry, he ended up washing his hands… eventually.

13. Any funny or interesting travel stories from international trips?

Lost a teammate (Devin Brown) at my first world championships. He got put out and left the venue to go eat and no one knew. People were looking for him for hours and hours. We had to organize a search party. This was in Serbia by the way.

14. You made history by being the first NCAA wrestler to ever walk out to the Pokémon theme song before the championship finals. Describe your relationship with Pokémon and how does it relate to wrestling?

Well honestly, Pokémon has always been my second hobby outside of wrestling, but I didn’t run out to the Pokémon theme song ‘cause I thought it was “funny” or “cool.” I spent many, many hours traveling with my father to camps and practices to train with great coaches and partners, and I always played Pokémon during those trips. In a way, the theme song saying, “I wanna be the very best like no one ever was” and me playing it on those trips, and remembering the countless hours in the car to get me to where I am, is why I ran out to it.

15. How did you celebrate your NCAA title?

Well, I wanted to be with my teammates and family so I went out to eat with my teammates and then celebrated a little with my family before getting back to work since I was going to try and train for the world trials, and then I was going to compete in Spain, but those never came into fruition.

16. Funniest teammate? Most annoying? Most attractive?

Funniest: Ice Ice Baby AKA Max Murin

Most annoying: Tony Cassioppi. He’s just too nice and it can be really annoying

Most attractive: Jacob Warner is one sexy piece of cake

17. Mark Hall wanted me to ask you if you’d rather have Pokémon be real or for world hunger to end. Since I know the type of person you are, I’ll rephrase the question and ask, would you rather Pokémon be real or be 3 inches taller? 

My girlfriend is huge into helping people in need, and for that, I will choose to end world hunger for two reasons: 1) World hunger is obviously a serious issue, and 2) So she doesn’t get on me later if she reads this interview. Also, I would want all the Pokémon to be just how they are and not any taller.

(I was actually trying to ask him if HE would rather be 3 inches taller—not the Pokémon. Simple miscommunication)

18. Do you think winning a Pennsylvania state title is harder than being an NCAA All American?

I do not. I think being an All American is definitely a task that many state champs may never get the chance to do, but I do think PA states is always a tough-as-nails state tournament.

19. Michael Kemerer seems like a great guy. What are some dark secrets or negative aspects about him that could potentially hurt his image?

I’d really hate to kill his reputation like this, but he is the BIGGEST cheater in UNO history. He once hid so many cards that he got banned from ever playing UNO again with any wrestlers or coaches.

Michael is a 2x All American and two-sport athlete at Iowa.

20. The Big Ten weight class at 125 will possibly be tougher than most weight classes at the NCAA tournament. What are you looking forward to most about the tournament and is there any bad blood between you and Rivera?

I’m looking forward to competing on these big stages again; that is what we train for, and no, I don’t think I have any bad blood with really any opponent in my weight class.

21. A couple people were speculating about this, but what does a round robin between you, DeSanto, and Gilman look like? Anything ever get out of hand or overly intense?

Well we try and keep everything hard and the focus is improvement and our pride is left behind because there is no reason to freak out or get super physical, besides in the hand-fight of course. But no, nothing has ever got out of hand with me; we train hard and we all want to improve the best we can.

Spencer will be competing this Saturday and Sunday at the Big Ten Championships in Minnesota. His weight class will include 9 nationally ranked wrestlers and 4 All Americans: 

#1 Sebastian Rivera, Northwestern (All American)

#3 Spencer Lee, Iowa (NCAA Champ)

#6 Sean Russell, Minnesota (All American)

#11 Rayvon Foley, Michigan State

#12 Travis Piotrowski, Illinois

#13 Drew Mattin, Michigan 

#14 Zeke Moisey, Nebraska (2x All American)

#18 Elijah Oliver, Indiana

#20 Devin Schroder, Purdue