College wrestlers and coaches staying positive, hopeful for 2020-21 season

Updated: September 17, 2020

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Note: The following column appeared in the September issue of WIN Magazine. Click here to subscribe to WIN, which will publish its annual College/High School Preseason issue on Oct. 2. The photos above are of Iowa’s two-time NCAA champ Spencer Lee and Michigan coach Sean Bormet.


By Bryan Van Kley, WIN Publisher

In this ever-changing world of dealing with COVID, college wrestlers, coaches and fans are waiting on the fate of the upcoming season. Like these teams, WIN is staying optimistic and planning for a season that hopefully will start in January and finish in March. The exception would be the junior college division, which is scheduled to finish in late April.

I thought it would be interesting to get perspective from top coaches and athletes in Division I who are dealing with so many unknowns.

For an athlete’s perspective, I called 2020 Dan Hodge Trophy winner Spencer Lee of Iowa. A senior who would be going for a third straight NCAA title, Lee said the key is staying positive and controlling what you can.

Spencer Lee

“Make sure you’re intrinsically motivated. Have a goal you want to achieve. Competing with yourself should be your main priority,” he said. “For me, I run the same route every day and every day I try to keep my same time. Maybe it’s lifting, or maxing pull-ups every week, how many can I do? If you keep doing that every single day, the next thing that’s going to come up on the horizon is the competition.

“When you’re in this downtime, your mind is the most important thing to work on. Have a mental-toughness routine. You can be so much better coming out of this COVID stuff than you ever would have thought (if you’re doing these things.)”

Michigan coach Sean Bormet agreed.

“We’re trying to create an environment where guys are positive and they’re enjoying the aspects of improving,” he said. The third-year Wolverine coach said his wrestlers realize full well after this past spring what it feels like to not have the opportunity to wrestle at the NCAAs. So they’re very appreciative to even be back on campus in Ann Arbor with their teammates and to be training together.


The Michigan wrestlers are doing small-group training sessions for conditioning or strength training and are allowed in campus athletic facilities. Michigan has a stand-alone wrestling facility so they’re able to isolate themselves from the rest of the student-athletes. Iowa also has allowed their athletes in athletic facilities since June, other schools have been much more restrictive.

The Big Ten Conference, thus far, has ruled no football for the fall. So, that leaves the winter sports seasons in question yet. Bormet said coaches are now in the position of trying to make big decisions on redshirts, Olympic redshirts and scholarships without knowing the specifics of what the year may look like. The former NCAA finalist, whose program is ranked No. 2 in WIN’s preseason rankings, said the key is seeking to do what’s right, both for the individual wrestlers but also for the program.

Several Michigan wrestlers took Olympic redshirts last year as the team reloaded for what would be the Wolverines’ strongest line-up in years this season.

Now everything is up in the air. Bormet said he has seven guys who could still be eligible for an Olympic redshirt again this year, but the NCAA would have to approve that. That group includes Stevan Micic, Myles Amine, Logan Massa, Kanen Storr, Will Lewan, Mason Parris and Kurt McHenry.

Third-ranked Cornell is an example of a team at a university which is more restrictive. Cornell has made it students sign a Cornell Behavioral Compact with COVID guidelines. And all university weight rooms and athletic training facilities are off limits. It’s highly unlikely — as an Ivy League school in a conference that has prohibited all fall sports — that Cornell will wrestle this year with it’s full line-up even if the NCAA approves the second-semester season.

Bormet said with all the uncertainty, it’s important to focus on things you can control.

Sean Bormet

“Recognize the things you can control and focus on those things,” he said. “Wrestlers love to compete. Be really in tune with the process of developing yourself physically and technically. Find ways to push yourself in those areas and find great satisfaction in that. Know this is temporary and that you will be competing again.”

Lee said his academic schedule, with many on-line classes, actually sets up better for him and for his training in many ways. He now has more flexibility on times when he is able to work out and he also has more free time. The Hawkeye said he thinks it’s important to spend time on hobbies to offset the difficulties of dealing with the pandemic.

Besides his normal love for gaming and reading, Lee is hand carving his own bow with the end goal of hunting with it someday.

“Keep everything positive and find hobbies,” he said. “It’s something I do rather than moping around. You can only work out so much before you hurt yourself. Just don’t be negative. Everyone is affected by this. How can you come out of this and be better? The people that stagnate and go down are the ones who are very negative. Be better no matter what the situation is or what’s going on.”

Well said Spencer, that’s a perspective we probably all needed to hear right now.

(WIN Publisher Bryan Van Kley can be reached at