Is Spencer Lee the Greatest High School Wrestler of His Time?
Last week while the United States was sending a talented Junior freestyle team to Brazil to compete at the United World Wrestling’s Junior World Championships, a few of those wrestlers in that group were dubbed as a potential gold medal threats. Unfortunately, only one of those wrestlers was able to come home with a Junior World title, but that wrestler is none other than Spencer Lee.
Lee is a unique story in he went from being a Cadet World Champion in 2014, to a Junior World Champion in 2015, all before completing his third year of high school. So does that make Lee a potential threat for best high school wrestler of his time? I am starting to think maybe he is.
First, let’s talk more about his accomplishments. Last year Lee blitzed the Cadet World Championships. He won three matches by technical fall, and picked up a fall in the other match, he also didn’t allow his opponents to register a single point. In fact, the American competition was technically tougher for Lee, as some of his fellow countrymen did manage to score a point on the phenom. On top of all that he is a two-time Pennsylvania state champion and has won just about every major folkstyle tournament you could ask of him.
He then attempted to go to 54 kg for the 2015 Cadet World Championships, telling Jason Bryant in an interview, “I already won a Cadet World title at 110 lbs (50 kg), let’s go win one at 119 (54 kg) and give myself a challenge.” Lee was actually defeated by Daton Fix of Oklahoma, which forced Lee to acquire a special permission to compete for a spot on the Junior World Team – because he was too young to qualify for the team without it.
Lee won the 50 kg spot for the Junior World Team and the rest is now history, as he carved up the Junior tournament almost as bad as he did the Cadet tournament in 2014. Lee won every match be technical fall and his gold medal match was completed in under a minute (watch it here).
Now, let’s examine Lee’s competition for best high school wrestler of his time: Joey McKenna, Aaron Pico, Mark Hall, and Kyle Snyder.
Of that group – which is a who’s who of America’s top up-and-coming talent – Kyle Snyder probably makes the biggest impression on you, followed by Aaron Pico.
Pico was a 2013 Cadet World Champion which would have been his sophomore year of high school, and after what would have been his junior year of high school he earned a silver medal at the 2014 Junior World tournament. Kyle Snyder won a Junior World gold in 2013 when he would have been before his senior year in high school, and the next summer before his college career he earned a Junior bronze. Snyder has gone on to do some other pretty impressive things, like make the NCAA finals as a true freshman, and knock off 2012 Olympic champion to make the U.S. National Team at 19 years old.
Given the success of those two and the different weights they compete at, it’s hard to make a direct comparison, because the way the sport is, not everything matches up perfectly. We’ll try and do it anyway.
Right now Lee is on an incredible pace. He won a Cadet World title as a freshman, and followed that with a Junior World title with still two more years of high school to go. He has matched and outperformed the pace that Pico set by going from Cadet champ to Junior runner-up. Snyder has two Junior World medals before entering college, but Lee is also ahead of Snyder’s pace given that Lee still could have two more shots at Junior World medals before he leaves for college.
The caveat for this is that both Snyder and Pico have already done some pretty big things in their careers. Snyder making the Senior World Team, and Pico owns a win over a Senior World Champion and is expected to be a heavy contender for the 65 kg Olympic spot. Make no mistake, Synder and Pico are tremendous talents, but with Lee we may be watching the start of something truly great.
The last big question for Lee is what will he do with his future? Since he has already won a Junior World title, things start to get interesting. One thing seems certain, that Lee’s time at 50 kg is most likely done. It didn’t appear that Lee was “killing himself” to make 50 kg, but it seems pretty logical that he will move up. The 55 kg Junior weight-class can be a tough one and I for one think it would provide more than enough challenge for Lee to come back and try and win a World Championship at that weight in 2016. He has already stated he likes to compete in his age group, and this past year he went up a weight for a challenge, which leads me to believe something similar could happen next year.
Lee also has aspirations to win NCAA individual and team titles, but the end goal will be World and Olympic titles and having a strong regional training center for freestyle will most likely be in the list of “demands” Lee will factor in when making his college decision.
There are four schools standout at the present time as schools that should be able to compete for NCAA titles and are also complimented by world class coaching/training partners. The local school, Penn State has many things that would be attractive to Lee, including the addition of Nick Suriano as a college workout partner. Iowa is a school that is known for the continuous stream of lightweight products they have produced over the past few years, and they are headlined by two-time World Team member Tony Ramos and his coach Terry Brands, who was the freestyle coach of the year.
While Iowa and Penn State appear to have probably the greatest coaching and training partner combinations, one shouldn’t overlook Ohio State, who after winning their first NCAA team title doesn’t appear to be slowing down, adding plenty more talented recruits and of course it is the training ground for the four-time NCAA champ Logan Stieber and three-time World team member Reece Humphrey. Arizona State also looms as an attractive option as they are coached by Team USA’s former national coach Zeke Jones.
Lee doesn’t give much away on where he is headed, and while I listed four schools above, I think it is rather safe to say any coach with a pulse is trying to put together an attractive offer for Lee. The final takeaway is that Lee has earned himself this position. He has placed himself – through hours of training and competing – in a position where he very well could be the greatest wrestler to come out of high school in his era, and if he can continue to produce his commitment should and most likely will be a defining moment for that University.
Bringing it back full circle it may be a touch early yet to definitively say, “Yes, Spencer Lee is the greatest high school wrestler of his time”, but the bigger takeaway is that Lee is building a great resume to be that guy, and he’s doing it against some outstanding competition. I think Lee is already there given what he has accomplished at such an early age, but within a year Lee will have the opprotunity to take the argument out of our hands.
(Photos in this post by John Sachs | Tech-fall.com)