Redshirt freshman Mekhi Lewis hasn’t been a student at Virginia Tech for very long. While redshirting a season ago, he ranked second on The Open Mat’s list of top redshirt freshmen in the nation. He’s going to have an extremely successful career at Virginia Tech.
That was on full display last week in Slovakia as Lewis was presented with an opportunity of a lifetime to represent Team USA at the Junior World Championships. He put Virginia Tech Wrestling on the international stage by becoming the first Hokie wrestler to ever win a gold medal and a World Championship.
It was an impressive tournament for Lewis to say the least, defeating Abubakar Abakarov (Azerbaijan) 5-1 in the 74 kg final. He defeated wrestlers from Estonia, South Africa and Mongolia en route to the championship match. In his four matches, Lewis gave up an astounding combined four points. While the United States took second overall, it was Lewis who secured the lone gold medal out of any American wrestler at the championships.
And maybe the most impressive note of all? This was the first time the 19-year old competed on the international stage. It was just his third freestyle tournament of his career, something he has worked hard at given that NCAA wrestling is folkstyle.
“I feel great. I thought I could do it, but being in the moment and accomplishing that goal feels amazing,” Lewis told USA Wrestling. “After all the hard work I put in this summer to learn freestyle and now to be a World Champion is the best feeling in the world.”
This is another major accomplishment for second-year coach Tony Robie and the successful program he has in Blacksburg.
“It’s a big deal I think for a lot of reasons. Number one, from my point of view, it puts us on the stage from an international freestyle standpoint, which I think we’ve been building towards that with the additions of Coach [Jared] Frayer, Coach [Frank] Molinaro, both former Olympians, Frank [Molinaro] who’s still competing,” said Robie.
“It’s important to be able to sell that when you go into the best recruits’ houses in the country and these kids at a very young age, they know what their goals are. And not only do they want to wrestle at a program where they think they can win NCAA titles, but they want to wrestle at a program where they think they can win World and Olympic titles. With the success we’re having, it makes that a lot easier to do.”
Meanwhile, the Hokies’ 2018-19 schedule was released last week. The non-conference slate features matches against Missouri, Northwestern, Princeton, Lehigh and Cornell – all programs that are nationally respected. When Cornell comes to Blacksburg, they’ll bring the reigning National Champion at the 141-pound weight class, Yianni Diakomihalis, with them. He finished 37-1 in his freshman campaign a season ago.In the ACC part of the schedule, Tech will host in-state rival Virginia at the Moss Arts Center on February 16.
“Any time we wrestle over in Moss [Arts Center], I think it’s great. The fact that we get to wrestle the University of Virginia and it’s for the Commonwealth [Clash], it’s pretty cool. I think that’s one event that our fans hopefully have circled on their calendars,” said Robie.
Maybe the most important match of the regular season will be the finale against North Carolina State, one that could impact a lot for this talented Hokies squad.
“It’s an opportunity for us. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, because we have a lot of ground to cover between now and then, I think there’s a pretty decent chance that the winner of that match will hinge one way or another on who wins the ACC regular season Championship,” said Robie.
Despite that match on February 24 being the final time they’ll wrestle in the regular season, it won’t be the last time Tech competes in Cassell Coliseum. Virginia Tech is hosting the ACC Championships on March 9.
“It’s another opportunity for us to win an ACC Championship on our home court in front of our home fans. I’m excited for the Hokie Nation to come out and support us. My goal is to have the biggest crowd in the history of ACC tournaments. Hopefully we can blow it out and put 5-7,000 people in Cassell Coliseum for that event,” said Robie.
Virginia Tech opens its season on November 4 at the Hokie Open, an all-day event at the Berglund Center.