Spencer Lee becomes 3-time NCAA wrestling champion
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Iowa senior Spencer Lee is used to beginning a wrestling match.
He'd rather set the tone for his Iowa teammates.
But the NCAA wrestling championships had other ideas. They decided to put the 125-pound final at the end Saturday at Enterprise Center in St. Louis.
The ESPN broadcast team called it "saving the best for last."
The Franklin Regional graduate battled Arizona State redshirt junior Brandon Courtney in the final, and after early struggles, Lee took over. He used an escape and takedown in the second period en route to a 7-0 victory.
He becomes an NCAA three-time champion, the seventh in Iowa history. He's won 35 consecutive matches.
Lee then shocked the wrestling world by admitting he wrestled the tournament with a torn ACL.
"I went through a lot," Lee said. "It was definitely my toughest. It's been a struggle."
Lee said he hurt the knee 10 days ago, but he wasn't going down without a fight.
This is the third time Lee has sustained a torn ACL. The first came during his senior season in high school and the second in the NCAA finals in 2019.
Lee outscored his five opponents 59-8 in the tournament
"My job is to get things started," Lee said. "I would have liked to be first for my teammates. I lead by example.
"My doctors are amazed that I'm able to wrestle. There was talked about medical forfeit, but if I'm going to lose, I'm doing it my way. I'm going down swinging."
The Olympic trials are in two weeks, and Lee said he plans on being there despite his injury.
Penn State, meanwhile, didn't win an NCAA team title, but it did have four national champions.
The Nittany Lions were a perfect four for four in the finals but finished second to Big Ten rival Iowa in the team standings, 129 to 113.5.
The four champions were Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141), Carter Starocci (174) and Aaron Brooks (184).
"This is a special group of guys, and they wrestled really well," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. "We needed more of a team effort. We had four national champions, and we didn't win the team title. We need to score more team points, and it shows how good Iowa is.
"The goal is to be the best that you can be. They just believed."
Carter Starocci, a Penn State redshirt freshman from Cathedral Prep, used a takedown in overtime to deny Iowa redshirt senior and Franklin Regional grad Michael Kemerer a national title at 174 with a 3-1 victory.
Starocci and Kemerer exchanged escapes during regulation, but Starocci counted a Kemerer shot and was able to secure a double-leg takedown for the stunning win. Penn State won three titles in sudden victory.
It was a historic night for the Pitt wrestling program. It was the first time since 1963 that the Panthers had two finalists. Unfortunately for the Panthers, redshirt senior Jake Wentzel (South Park) and Nino Bonaccorsi (Bethel Park) came up short.
Wentzel allowed a takedown in the third period to Stanford's Shane Griffiths and dropped a 7-2 decision at 165 pounds.
Griffiths grabbed a 2-0 lead with a takedown with 1 minute, 51 seconds left in the opening period, but Wentzel rallied with two escapes to tie the score 2-2.
In the third period, Griffiths took neutral and was able to secure a takedown with a minute left and then got two late nearfall points to increase his score.
Bonaccorsi dropped a 4-2 decision to Oklahoma State's A.J. Ferrari at 197. The Cowboys freshman used his strength and riding to ability to control the match. He accumulated nearly three minutes of riding time.
"This is a big deal for our program," Pitt coach Keith Gavin said. "The national tournament is always the focus, but especially this year after losing last year when we thought we'd put some guys on the podium.
"So to come back this year and do this is big for us. It's been too long for Pitt. We need people to realize that they can win national titles here. That's what we wanted to show them."
Gavin, in 2008, was the last Pitt wrestler to win a national title.
"Things have certainly gone well for us in St. Louis," Gavin continued. "It meant a lot for Pitt to have Jake and Nino in the finals. They are both very committed to trying to be the best."
Penn State had the first two champions of the finals as Bravo-Young used a takedown in overtime to defeat Oklahoma State's Daton Fix, 4-2, at 133, and Nick Lee rallied in the third period to defeat Iowa's Jayden Eierman, 4-2, in overtime at 141.
Bucknell: Zach Hartman (Belle Vernon), sixth at 165
Iowa: Kaleb Young (Punxsutawney), seventh at 157
Ohio State: Ethan Smith (Latrobe), fifth at 165
Oklahoma: Jake Woodley (North Allegheny), sixth at 197
Penn State: Michael Beard, seventh at 197; Greg Kerkvliet, seventh at 285
West Virginia: Killian Cardinale, seventh at 125
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .