Dan Gable has been there.
He understands the challenge two-time defending 125-pound NCAA champion Spencer Lee faces as he prepares for his junior season on the Iowa wrestling team.
“He’s got to be better as a junior than he was a sophomore. He can’t wrestle at the level he wrestled at a year ago and believe that will be good enough this year because it won’t be,’’ Gable said Monday at the Davenport Grid Club luncheon.
“There are wrestlers all over the country working hard every day to get what he’s earned. They’re coming after him and the more you win, the more that is the case. As a competitor, you have to understand that, use it as motivation.’’
Gable speaks from experience. He compiled a 117-1 record at the collegiate level at Iowa State, winning a pair of national championships before losing the last match of his college career in the finals of NCAA Championships.
Lee is 45-5 at the midpoint of his college career and has been dominant at times on his way to back-to-back NCAA titles, earning bonus points in 36 of his victories for the Hawkeyes.
Gable most appreciates the tenacity he has seen from Lee when he has been at his best.
“And, he has shown the ability to rise to the occasion as needed, which is a good trait to have,’’ Gable said. “He’s an excellent wrestler, but he has had a few matches along the way where he didn’t seem to be himself. He needs to figure that out and learn from those experiences.’’
Gable looks forward to Lee, a two-time Junior World champion and a Cadet World champion prior to the start of his collegiate career, eventually returning to international competition at some point.
While some wrestlers are expected to forego collegiate competition next season to chase 2020 Olympic dreams, Lee is expected to take the mat for the Hawkeyes during the 2019-20 season.
Gable believes Lee can use that to his advantage even if he chooses to pursue those same international possibilities.
“If he can use the Olympics as that goal for 2020, it might actually benefit him at the college level,’’ Gable said. “The NCAAs would be just another step toward that ultimate goal and using that as a step in the process can help him earn his next NCAA championship.’’
The coach of 15 of Iowa’s 23 NCAA championship teams said ultimately Lee’s ability to continue to gain consistency in his performance will dictate where things go from here.
“He has to keep working,’’ Gable said. “That’s where it begins, because the competition is going to keep working, too.’’