ST. LOUIS: Iowa leads the team race heading into the final day of the NCAA wrestling championships, but Penn State showed it’s not going to easily loosen the grip it’s had on the title for nearly a decade.
Spencer Lee and two of his Iowa teammates won semifinals Friday night, and the Hawkeyes go into Saturday with 109 points.
The Nittany Lions had all four of their semifinalists advance and had 94.5 points. Oklahoma State, with two finalists, is third with 86.5.
The Hawkeyes are looking for their 24th team title and first since 2010. Penn State is looking for its ninth in 10 years and fifth in a row.
Iowa will have two of its three finalists going head-to-head with Penn State wrestlers in rematches of Big Ten finals, both won by the Hawkeyes.
Lee, the 2020 Hodge Trophy winner as the nation’s outstanding wrestler, will have to beat third-seeded Brandon Courtney of Arizona State to win his third national title at 125 pounds.
Lee posted an 11-0 major decision over fourth-seeded Drew Hildebrandt of Central Michigan in the semifinals for his 34th straight victory. That came after Lee passed his toughest test of the season in the quarterfinals. He led No. 9 Devin Schroder of Purdue 3-2 after the second period before scoring a quick seven points in the third for a 10-2 major decision.
The unbeaten Courtney won three straight close matches to reach the final and will be squaring off with Lee for the first time.
Unbeaten Jaydin Eierman and Nick Lee will meet in the first of two finals matching Iowa and Penn State wrestlers.
Their showdown was set up when the top-seeded Eierman pinned North Carolina State’s Tariq Wilson in 2:59 and Nick Lee decisioned Rutgers’ Sebastian Rivera 9-3.
Michael Kemerer, the unbeaten No. 1 at 174, will go against Penn State’s third-seeded Carter Starocci. Kemerer had a smooth path through the bracket while Starocci got past No. 2 Demetrius Romero with a 2-0 semifinal win.
Oklahoma States top-seeded Daton Fix, who last month came off a one-year suspension after testing positive for a banned substance, advanced at 133 with a 3-2 decision over No. 4 Austin DeSanto of Iowa. Fix, the national runner-up in 2019, will face No. 2 Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State in a battle of unbeatens.
Penn State’s other finalist, unbeaten No. 1 Aaron Brooks, will face No. 2 Trent Hidlay of North Carolina State.
The Hawkeyes’ biggest disappointment of the day was top-seeded Alex Marinelli’s 3-1 overtime loss to Stanford’s eight-seeded Shane Griffith at 165. Griffith advanced to the finals for the Cardinal, who are dropping their program after this season.
Minnesota heavyweight Gabe Steveson continued his dominant run through the bracket, extending his win streak to 33 with a 9-4 decision over Penn States ninth-seeded Greg Kerkvliet in quarters and posting a 16-6 major decision over No. 5 Tony Cassioppi of Iowa in the semis.
Virginia Techs Mekhi Lewis, who won his schools first individual title in 2019, withdrew Friday because of a left shoulder injury. He was in obvious pain as he toughed out a 3-2 second-round win over Navys Tanner Skidgel at 165.
Lewis initially was injured in a dual a month ago and needed a wild card to get into the national tournament after missing the ACC tournament for medical reasons.