Brayton Lee just won’t give up. Whether he’s down in a match or facing a foe he’s lost to several times, Lee faces the challenge with confidence.
This past weekend at the 2019 UWW Junior Team Trials, Lee displayed that grit for the whole wrestling world to see. In his final three bouts in the bracket, Lee rallied in the second period. Against Sammy Sasso in a best-of-three series, who he had lost to earlier this May, Lee rallied to take down the Buckeye and show off his amazing conditioning.
“I just kept pressuring and keeping good position like the coaches were telling me,” Lee said. “Something Coach Eggum always talks about is wrestling every position, making them work, and staying aggressive the whole time.”
Lee finished his redshirt campaign in the Maroon and Gold with a 26-7 record with eight technical falls. The Brownsburg, Indiana, native won the National Collegiate Open and was runner-up at the Edinboro Open as well as the recent UWW Junior Nationals in Las Vegas. Both times against Sasso.
This past weekend in Raleigh at the World Team Trials was the sweetest memory of his past year.
After advancing to the best-of-three series against Sasso, Lee had the rematch he craved. Suddenly Lee trailed 8-0. Just as suddenly, Lee began to gain momentum over Sasso. Lee ran off 11-unanswered to win the first bout of best-of-three 11-8.
“I remember running off the mat for my cool down with coaches [Luke] Becker and Trevor [Brandvold] jogging behind me,” Lee said with a smile on his face. “They were just smiling at me and it was fun. We were ready to go for round two. I was hyped. We were pumped.”
Lee didn’t fall into the same early hole in the second bout, taking home an 8-1 victory. Even with the faith in his abilities, the feeling of validation Lee earned was indescribable for him. It may not have sunk in until he hugged his parents, Karma and Brett, up in the stands. For the first time in his career, Lee would represent USA Wrestling on the international stage.
“It’s just crazy I’ve never been on a world team at any level and I’m so grateful for the chance this summer,” Lee said. “I got home and Googled Estonia to get ready.”
Lee’s faith translates into a consistent, ferocious work ethic. The freshman ran Goldy’s 10 mile run just for an extra test in early April.
Challenging himself against older wrestlers is also common for Lee. Whether it’s RTC Storm coach Dustin Schlatter, assistant coach Luke Becker, or any number of similar-sized grapplers in the wrestling room.
“The first few weeks in the summer when we first got here I could hold my own, but I couldn’t score a ton on these guys,” Lee said. “Now I feel a ton more comfortable. It’s a completely different feel. This year I found the true meaning of getting better and getting beat up. You just learn a lot more about yourself.”
The coaches have seen, and felt, the improvement.
“The most important thing about Brayton is his unbelievable work ethic and his attitude towards getting better,” Becker said. “The place he’s improved the most is his technique on the mat, whether it’s on top or bottom.”
He was happy to get in those practices as well as matches at open tournaments, but now Lee is eager to prove himself against Big Ten competition. As Lee sat there on the floor of Maturi Pavilion throughout the dual season he envisioned himself running out to the mat next season.
As the crowd roared and booed Iowa, Lee dreamt of next year’s duals.
“Those dual meets and the Big Ten Tournament it’s such a different dynamic than high school,” Lee said. “I was excited and anxious, I felt like I was out there at times. The crowd brings you into it and there’s a lot of emotions watching your brothers out there.”
As his redshirt year comes to a close, Lee couldn’t be happier to have a home at Minnesota. The new facilities don’t hurt, but Lee feels the connection comes down to how his personality fits perfectly with the program’s identity.
“Every day it’s so reassuring being here,” Lee said. “I’ve never been so grateful with guys, coaches, and a place. I feel so at home here, it’s perfect. It hasn’t gotten old and it has all the meaning and the heart.”
Now the time is nearing for Lee to hit the mat as an official Gopher’s wrestler, potentially as a starter next season. Lee’s found success this summer on the freestyle scene, but folkstyle will be different and the conference season will be a grind.
There’s no wavering of confidence in Lee as he prepares for the Big Ten.
“I plan to be a National Champion and I plan to dominate,” Lee said. “I plan to score a lot of points, that’s my goal. I want to be the best wrestler I can be by being aggressive and not holding anything back.”