Leroy Vega photo courtesy of Minnesota athletics; Spencer Lee photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
The 2001 Minnesota Golden Gophers have gone down in college wrestling lore as one of the most unique and impressive teams in history. This was a squad that put all ten of its wrestlers on the NCAA podium, a feat that has not been duplicated at the DI level before or since. That group effort propelled the Gophers past the host, Iowa Hawkeyes, by 13 points for the school’s first national title. Even more unbelievable was Minnesota had ten All-Americans and racked up 138.5 team points without having an NCAA finalist. They remain the only DI team to have won a team title without putting a single wrestler in the national finals.
In the 20 years since the Gophers won their first title, there have been plenty of excellent DI teams that didn’t come close to matching the hallowed ten national placewinners. (It should be noted that with the cancelation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament, Iowa had 10 wrestlers “named” All-Americans. Nine on the first team and one on the second team. However, they did not wrestle an actual tournament to finish in the top eight). In fact, the last two decades have contained some of the most dominant teams in NCAA history, but they did not approach the Gophers.
The 2005 Oklahoma State team surpassed the Minnesota team score mark (153-138.5) and crowned five champions, but “only” had seven AA’s. Iowa’s 2010 team had finalists at each of the first four weights and three national champions. They tallied 134.5 points and saw eight of their ten starters earn All-American honors. Penn State’s 2012 title-winning team was star-driven with 143 points and all six of their All-Americans finishing in the top three. A few years later, in 2017, Penn State matched Oklahoma State’s five national champions and rang up 146.5 team points, but only had one other AA. The next season, the Nittany Lions put eight on the podium.
20 years later, could we see Iowa finally match the performance of J Robinson’s 2001 team? Judging by the current rankings, there’s a strong possibility of that occurring. All ten of Iowa’s starters are ranked in the top-ten, with only one being lower than sixth. While the ten placewinners seem within the crosshairs for Tom Brands’ squad, it’s improbable that they achieved that mark the same way Minnesota did. The 2021 Hawkeyes feature three wrestlers who inhabit the top spot at their respective weights. One other is ranked second.
Today, we’ll go weight-by-weight and look at the chances for Iowa’s 2021 starter to secure a spot on the podium, along with some facts related to the corresponding Minnesota wrestler’s journey to the top-eight.
125 - #1 Spencer Lee
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