IOWA CITY — Spencer Lee is preparing to run a race he plans to dominate.
The Iowa freshman has accomplished a lot in his short career, winning a Cadet World Championship and taking the top spot twice as a Junior World Champion.
Lee has compiled a 14-1 record this season for the Hawkeyes and has worked his way to being ranked second nationally in a wide-open 125-pound weight class, he still finds himself savoring all sorts of moments during his first year of collegiate competition.
He’s shown the strength and grit it takes ride out a 3-2 decision over Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello that allowed him to experience the feeling of upsetting a top-rated wrestler while silencing an opposing crowd.
He’s beaten four other top-10 wrestlers in the country on his way to building an 8-0 record against the field he will face at this weekend’s Big Ten Championships.
Lee has also worked to learn from the situations he has found himself in, from a 3-1 loss to Oregon State’s Ronnie Bresser while competing unattached at the Midlands to learning to build on quick starts and maintain energy levels in matches that last seven minutes.
He has a wide-eyed approach to things as his collegiate career unfolds, experiencing what he always dreamed about being a part of while preparing to make the most of the opportunity.
"It’s all wrestling, something I’ve been doing all my life, but everything is still sort of new for me," said Lee, who arrived at Iowa last fall as the top-rated competitor in the 2017 recruiting class.
"Putting on an Iowa singlet, wrestling at Carver and in front of fans for the first time, it’s all exciting and something I’ve been waiting to do for a long time."
His goal, one shared by his teammates and a number of wrestlers he will face in upcoming matches, is to put himself in a position in the next two-plus weeks to win a national championship.
"The approach doesn’t differ at all," Lee said. "I try to wrestle every match like it’s for the national title. That’s who I am and how I compete. I’ll get after it, but it’s still one step at a time just like it always has been."
Lee experiences another first on Saturday, seeded second behind Rutgers’ Nick Suriano at 125 in the Big Ten Championships being contested this year at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan. Tomasello will there as well, seeded third and a potential opponent in the semifinals.
He expects the moment to be familiar, yet different.
"I grew up watching this tournament, and I’m excited to be part of it and get a chance to compete for a championship in the best conference in the country," Lee said.
He recalls rooting for another top-level 125-pounder, Penn State’s Nico Megaludis, who like Lee attended Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania.
"Growing up, going to the same school, I’ve known him for years, and I remember watching him and (Iowa’s Thomas) Gilman go back and forth as they battled," Lee said. "I’ve always been a Hawkeye fan, too, but with the personal connection there, I always watched Megaludis closely. Good memories. It’s a great tournament, and I’m sure there will be some great matches, just like always."
Lee looks forward to being a part of that.
But, he also expects it to start with a familiar feel.
"There will be a nervous excitement," he said. "When you take the mat for the first time in a big tournament, it’s always there. It always has been, and I don’t think that will change this week."
One of five Hawkeyes who will be competing in the Big Ten Championships for the first time, Lee doesn’t expect the way he competes to change much either.
"It’s a college-level meet, folk style wrestling, and I know there’s going to be guys out there competing hard and ready to rip some heads off," Lee said. "So, that’s what I’m looking forward to, going out there and competing hard and ripping some heads off."
Lee, flashing a grin, wouldn’t have it any other way.