TULSA, Oklahoma – The crowd was still buzzing. The unthinkable had happened…Spencer Lee had lost.
But as he waiting in the tunnel for his match, Iowa’s Real Woods had to block that out. It sounds easier said than done, but Woods did it.
The senior scored an early takedown and added four nearfall points on a tilt in the first period en route to a 11-1 major decision over Brock Hardy of Nebraska to reach the 141 pound national finals Friday at the NCAA wrestling championships.
“It is another step in accomplishing a dream I set as a little kid,” Woods said after his win.
Then he was asked about Lee.
“The coaches reiterate over and over throughout the tournament to focus on your match,” Woods said. “It really made an impact in that moment because it is a huge deal and creates a big disappointment for me personally…because of the friendship we have developed.
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“But in my head I was telling myself to focus on my match. That is where I tried to keep my head.”
The early offense was critical said Woods who dominated both of his matches Friday after squeaking through the second round on Thursday night.
“I like to score points and getting that done immediately is right on theme with what I like to do in my ideal match,” Woods said.
Woods will face Andrew Alirez of Northern Colorado in the finals.
Back to Lee, seeking to become the fifth four-time NCAA champion in history, Purdue’s Matt Ramos wanted to write a different history.
Ramos scored first and took a 4-0 lead over Lee in the first period only to see Lee charge back and take a 7-4 lead with 40 seconds left in the match.
Then on a restart, Ramos rolled out from bottom before taking Lee feet to back and pinning him in 6 minutes and 59 seconds.
"The easy thing to say is he has to move on," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "It is hard. This is really hard, but you still got to move on. As easy as that is to say…it seems cruel to say that. Because the magnitude of it…the magnitude is high.
"I'm not going to sit here and analyze something that to me is tragic right now," Brands continued about what he saw transpire in the 10 seconds after a restart leading to Ramos' pin. "I know he (Lee) is at his best when he wrestling, when he is flowing and moving and has very wicked quickness. I don’t know if he was in that mode."
The upset may go down as one the biggest in NCAA history. Lee was 18-0 all-time in the NCAA tournament and many those matches were not close.
"We got to move on. The next step is to take the next step," Brands said
Iowa's other semifinalist, heavyweight Tony Cassioppi lost to Michigan's Mason Parris by technical fall, 16-1, at 285.
Lee's teammates responded to the loss by rattling off six straight back-side backside matches
Max Murin at 149, Nelson Brands at 174 and Jacob Warner at 197 all-earned all-American status for the Hawkeyes and can finish no lower than sixth.
Murin, a four-time NCAA qualifier who had lost in the blood round three times, ended that curse with a 3-2 win over Chance Lamer of Michigan.
During the morning quarterfinals and consolation rounds was a mixed bag of results for the Hawkeyes as Iowa won three of its five quarterfinal matches.
Lee wasn’t particularly happy with his quarterfinal performance and he still won by 10 after topping Anthony Noto of Lock Haven, 14-4.
Like usual, Lee came out like a gangbuster to open the match and built a 10-0 lead in the first period which included 2 minutes and 33 seconds of ride time.
But Noto turned Lee for four points in the second period, and nearly caught him in a half close to turning Lee to his back in the third period, before Lee escaped late and scored a takedown late for his third bonus-point win of the championships.
“Should’ve kept scoring, it is that simple,” Lee said.
Woods, after escaping Dylan D’Emillio of Ohio State, 7-5, in the second round, was absolutely dominate in beating Missouri’s Alan Hart, 9-0, in the quarterfinals.
Woods scored takedowns in each of the periods and turned Hart for two after his score in the first period to build an early advantage.
Woods said the difference between a so-so performance Thursday night and a great performance Friday morning was he had better nutrition and better physical prep.
“Felt great, definitely a lot better than yesterday,” Woods said. “Made some adjustments.”
Cassioppi scored in sudden victory to beat returning national finalist Cohlton Schultz of Arizona State, 3-1, to advance.
Iowa’s other two quarterfinalist lost close decisions.
Murin pushed three-time national champion Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell right to the finish before losing 8-7, at 149. And at 174, Brands dropped a 2-0 decision to past national champion Mekhi Lewis if Virginia Tech at 174.
Penn State with five national finalists leads the team race with 116.5 points, while Iowa is second with 77. Iowa State is eighth with 44.