Iowa's Spencer Lee wins second consecutive Hodge Trophy, shares honor with Minnesota's Gable Steveson
Spencer Lee, the Iowa wrestling program's star 125-pounder, was named the winner of the Hodge Trophy for the second-straight year on Monday, but unlike last year, Lee is sharing the honor with another one of the nation's top wrestlers.
Lee and Minnesota heavyweight Gable Steveson were named co-winners of the 2021 Hodge Trophy. The honor is awarded annually by Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine to college wrestling’s most dominant competitor, and this is just the second time in the award's 27-year history that two wrestlers have shared the award.
Back in 2001, Iowa State's Cael Sanderson and Simpson's Nick Ackerman shared the honor. This time, it's Lee, now a three-time NCAA champion at 125 pounds, and Steveson, the national champion at 285 pounds.
"You get put into elite company" with winning this award, Lee said Monday afternoon. "I'm humbled to have won the award. I would've been content with Gable winning it. He deserves it. Me and him are pretty close, so we're not upset about it.
"I think he's going to be an Olympic gold medalist this summer. You guys can quote me on that."
The Hodge Trophy Voting Committee, comprised of past Hodge winners, retired college coaches, national media members, plus a fan vote, said Lee and Steveson "wound up in a virtual tie," and that many voters suggested they be co-winners. Criteria for the award includes season record, number of pins and total dominance, among others.
Lee garnered 52 of the 57 first-place votes last season to win the award. Voting totals were not released this year. Lee won the online fan vote by a wide margin, 25,712 votes to Steveson’s 5,202 votes. Iowa State's David Carr finished third, with a pair of first-place votes.
“We have had fairly tight races before but nothing like this year,” Mike Chapman, the award's brainchild, said in a release. “It’s an amazing year in so many respects. When you look at what COVID did, cutting the season at least in half and causing such chaos, it was a very difficult season for everyone.”
But Lee's second Hodge Trophy, college wrestling's Heisman equivalent, puts him in a new stratosphere of college wrestling all-timers.
The Pennsylvania native is only the third Hawkeye wrestler to win the award, but the first to win it multiple times (Brent Metcalf won in 2008, Mark Ironside won in 1998). Lee is just the fifth wrestler ever to win the award more than once. The others:
- Penn State's Zain Retherford, who won it in both 2017 and 2018;
- Penn State's David Taylor, who won it in both 2012 and 2014;
- Missouri's Ben Askren, who won it in both 2006 and 2007;
- and Iowa State's Cael Sanderson, who won it three times, in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
The 22-year old went 12-0 this season with 11 bonus-point wins and won his third NCAA title. He won his five matches at the NCAA Championships by a combined 59-8, all while competing with torn anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees. Lee led the Hawkeyes to the NCAA team title, too, the 24th in program history but their first since 2010.
"I was just doing my best to win an NCAA title for my team," Lee said. "I know my team needed to bring that team title back home. That was my main priority. I wasn't thinking about bonus every match. I was focused on scoring the next point and getting through the matches healthy and being able to finish the tournament for my teammates.
"I just ended up winning the Hodge. I wasn't thinking about it, really, but I did what I could and I'm happy to have done what I did, and I'm honored to have won."
Steveson, meanwhile, went 17-0 with four pins, seven tech falls, and three major decisions en route to his first NCAA title at one of the nation's deepest weight classes. He gave up just one takedown all season.
"It was a bit of a surprise when I got the news because Spencer Lee is such a great wrestler," Steveson said. "But winning the Hodge Trophy is something I thought about all year. Winning the NCAA was first but then I wanted to win the Hodge, too. It was a childhood dream and now it’s crazy to see that it’s happened."
Lee plans to return next season and attempt to become just the fifth wrestler in NCAA history to win four individual national titles. He will take a 35-match winning streak into the 2021-22 season, a stretch that began at the 2019 NCAA Championships. He's outscored his opponents by a combined 430-40 during that streak.
"All the Hodge ingredients are rolled up into one ball, and that ball is Spencer Lee," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "He's making history for himself. He knows the significance of Dan Hodge, and the significance of the Dan Hodge Trophy. Now he's won two in a row.
"These things are an indication of how your wrestling is going. Awesome. But he's not done yet. He's international-minded. The path he's taken to this point continues into the future. His best wrestling is ahead of him, no doubt."
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.