Duncan Lee had been planning to look back on his first and last NCAA Division III National Wrestling Championship Tournament with fond memories — win or lose. But that was snatched away from him because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Lee, a Central College senior from Newton, with his Dutch teammates were in Cedar Rapids last Wednesday checked into a hotel and even practicing on the mats at U.S. Cellular Center. The tournament was slated to get underway Friday morning.
“They sat us down Thursday and told us the tournament was canceled. We were all there. The wrestlers had been on the mats together,” Lee said. “I was angry — still am a bit angry. I knew it was my last matches of my career. I knew that and was ready for it but to have it end this way.”
Lee has experienced the gamut of emotions from being on the top of the world on March 1 when he won a 285-pound division NCAA Division III regional championship to having not just his senior wrestling season shutdown but his senior year at Central College changed forever. Central College has gone to online classes for the remainder of the school year.
“My senior year at Central was a lot fun. It’s your last year and you just enjoy everything, especially the trips and just being around your teammates,” Lee said. “Being able to win a lot of matches was pretty special too. You just appreciate the little things.”
Lee went 27-6 as a Dutch senior to finish his four-year collegiate career at 78-41. He wrestled at 197 pounds as a freshman and sophomore then moved up to 285 his junior and senior campaigns. His second-best season was as a sophomore at 21-12.
On Wednesday, Lee was one of five Central wrestlers awarded National Wrestling Coaches Association Scholar All-American status. To qualify for the award, a wrestler must maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or higher and either place in the top six at the NCAA Division III regional or win more than 67 percent of his matches.
Lee is a two-time recipient of the Scholar All-America distinction. He went 4-0 at the regional meet to win the 285-pound title and secure the No. 3 seed at the national tournament. His GPA is 3.36 as a computer science and accounting major.
Seven years of wrestling experience is what Lee has after going out for the sport as a high school sophomore. In that first year, he was winless then he got better through hard work in the offseason then during the season.
He said he tried wrestling on advice from a Newton baseball coach.
“I wasn’t doing anything over the winter and got bored. One of my baseball coaches said I should try it. I went out and I enjoyed wrestling so I stuck with it,” Lee said after his NHS junior season.
Lee was a two-time Class 3A state tournament qualifier for Newton High. He qualified at 195 pounds as a junior finishing with a 25-12 mark and going 1-2 at the state tournament.
As a senior on the Cardinal squad, Lee began the season at 195 but after Christmas went down to 182. He won a 3A district championship to qualify for the state tournament in 2016. He claimed the sixth-place medal at 182.
Lee had a 47-6 senior season for Newton High. His 47 victories stands as the most wins for a season for NHS.
On Feb. 14, Lee was in Marshalltown watching the 2020 Cardinal wrestlers compete in a Class 3A district tournament.
“Going to the district tournament and watching the Newton guys was a lot of fun and got me pumped for our regional tournament. Postseason wrestling is the best wrestling,” Lee said. “Our Lower Midwest Regional was an absolute monster with the depth of people competing in it.”
Lee was unranked and seeded No. 7 going into the regional. He said he didn’t prepare any differently for the regional after having a lot of success in the regular season.
“I wasn’t looking to try anything different. I want into practice every day with the purpose of getting better. We backed off a bit to be able to peak at the right time,” Lee said. “I took it one match at a time. Some wrestlers make the mistake of looking too far ahead in the bracket.”
Lee opened the regional with a pin of Cornell College’s Alex Heisdorffer then in the 285-pound quarterfinals defeated Darryl Aiello of the University of Dubuque 6-2. The win avenged a January loss to Aiello and put Lee in the semifinals.
On the second day of the regional, Lee faced the eighth-ranked Jordan Brandon of Wartburg College in the semifinals. Brandon, who has been ranked much of the season, was defeated by Lee 6-5 on January 25.
Lee and Brandon went to overtime to settle the semifinal. Lee came away with a. 3-2 overtime victory to move into the championship match.
Lee captured the 285-pound NCAA Division III Lower Midwest Regional title beating Loras College’s Wyatt Wriedt 6-5 in the championship match. Lee advanced to the NCAA Division national tournament, which was 12 days away.
“It was an amazing feeling. I was ready for the national tournament,” Lee said. “Then they canceled it. It’s frustrating. I much rather had gone 0-2 at nationals because at least I could have shown where my work had gotten me and how I stacked up against the others on the mat.
“There’s a lack of closure. The question of what could have been.”
Lee said the whole situation surrounding the coronavirus outbreak is surreal. Central will not have in-person classes resume March 30 as it announced last week. Instead it will move to remote teaching and learning for the remainder of the spring semester.
“I left on a Wednesday and I’m not going back to classes. I won’t see my good friends who are from Washington, California and Arizona for five or six months. I’ll see them again,” Lee said. “I’m in computer science so finishing up classes online is not a problem. It’s just all so surreal right now —how my senior year ends.”
Contact Jocelyn Sheets at
641-792-3121 ext. 6535