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Brandon McKee vs. Spencer Lee to highlight Gophers wrestling vs. Iowa

Patrick McKee realizes the challenge is daunting. The 125-pound Gophers’ elder wrestler knows his next opponent, Iowa native Spencer Lee, is a three-time NCAA champion and two-time Hodge Trophy winner for the nation’s top collegiate wrestler.

And he’s aware that Lee has won 49 straight games and pinned only four straight top-10 opponents.

Nonetheless, McKee will relish the challenge of taking on the nation’s most dominant collegiate wrestler as 11th place next Friday at the Maturi Pavilion (8pm BTN).th-Ranked Gophers take on the No. 2 Hawkeyes in a Big Ten doubleheader.

“There is definitely a hype going on. We have a good team. They always have a solid team,” McKee said of the duel. “…It’s just a rivalry that runs very deep.”

The Gophers come into the duel after losing eight straight games to Iowa, and to upset the team they likely need McKee, who is ranked 6th in the InterMat poll at 125th, to pick Lee to hit, which pinned McKee in 1 minute. 53 seconds in 2021. The Gophers only have the senior wrestler in three of the 10 weight classes.

The marquee match will feature McKee, the former St. Michael-Albertville standout who finished fifth in the NCAA tournament last year with 125 and third in 2021, against Lee, who beat his opponents this season with 122: surpassed 25.

“He’s wrestled really solidly for us in these duels and he’s just in a really good place,” Gophers coach Brandon Eggum said of McKee. “So it should be an exciting match.”

wrestling kings

Lee has been at the top of college wrestling for most of the past six seasons. A Murrysville, Pennsylvania native, he won NCAA championships in 2018 and 2019 and then saw his shot at the 2020 crown vanish when the NCAA canceled the national tournament due to COVID-19. He was back on top of the podium with his third NCAA title in 2021, a title he only secured after struggling the entire tournament with two torn anterior cruciate ligaments.

Yes both.

In a televised interview following his 7-0 championship win over Arizona’s Brandon Courtney, Lee gave a glimpse of his relentless attitude.

“Eight days ago I tore the cruciate ligament in my other knee. I fight without a cruciate ligament,” he said. “Anyway, man. I didn’t want to tell anyone. Excuses are for wimps.”

Wrestling is not for the faint of heart and Lee certainly embodies the Hawkeyes’ physical style. He’s aggressive from the off, gets the first takedown quickly, and often uses moves called “tilts” to rack up near-fall points. All 11 of his wins this season came from bonus points – seven pins, two technical falls and two big decisions.

When Gophers heavyweight Gable Steveson won his first of two Hodge Trophies in 2021, he shared the honor with Lee, who then missed out on having knee surgery last season. Lee has resumed his dominance, surpassing his opponents 575-66 on his 49-game winning streak.

“I’ve never seen anyone better,” said Iowa coach Tom Brands last week.

attack on the challenge

How can McKee get rid of the excitement? First off, he has to weather Lee’s early storm.

“In the few games he’s lost in his college career,” Eggum said of Lee, “it showed you have to be smart and stay physical. Pat needs to take positions that will hopefully score and decide the match. The length of the game might be something that works in his favour.”

McKee agreed that the longer the match, the better his chances.

“I don’t want to say he broke down in the third half because obviously that’s not true given all his wins, but he definitely has more problems in the third half and later in the games,” McKee said.

With Lee McKee stuck in 2021, McKee admitted he didn’t have the right approach against such a physically powerful slugger.

“I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to attack and wrestle like I fight everyone else,'” he said. “But you can’t really wrestle with him the way you would wrestle with anyone else. He’s really someone you have to have a game plan for.”

McKee and the Gophers have a plan. Now comes the challenge: execute.

“This is a duel that we were looking forward to,” said Eggum. “He has everything to gain and nothing to lose. And that’s how we feel as a program.”

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