The most successful program in Blacksburg over the past few years has been Virginia Tech Wrestling. The team should only improve this season as head coach Tony Robie enters his third season in that position. Last year, he was named ACC Coach of the Year after leading the Hokies to a top two finish in the ACC Championships and a top 11 finish in the NCAA Championships.
“I like the focus of where we’re at right now and the commitment,” Robie said. “I think the guys had a really good summer, and our training this fall has been fantastic; it’s been as good as I can remember it.”
A large reason for the team’s success last season was the historic run by Mekhi Lewis. Lewis won the program’s first individual National Championship in the 165-pound weight class. He knocked off three of the top four seeds in the tournament in order to earn the title. Lewis’ championship will have a positive impact on the program for years to come.
“There’s no question that it makes a huge impact on our program for him to win as a freshman,” Robie said. “I think becoming our first NCAA Champion was a big deal, and we needed that to get done.”
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Lewis will not be wrestling with the Hokies this season in order to pursue his dream of competing in the Olympics in 2020. He will take an Olympic redshirt and still have three full years of eligibility at Tech when he returns to the team. This decision may be difficult for the short-term success of the program, but it gives Lewis an opportunity of a lifetime.
“It was a tough decision for us to do that because obviously, not having Mekhi negatively impacts our team,” Robie said. “This was a decision that we made based on what we thought was the best thing in Mekhi’s interest long-term to become the best in the world at one point in his career.”
In his absence, the Hokies will need other wrestlers to step up and lead the team. Redshirt-senior David McFadden is a three-time All-American and a two-time ACC Champion. McFadden wrestled in the 174-pound weight class last season, but with Lewis not wrestling, he will drop back down to the weight he wrestled at as a freshman and sophomore.
“I think  is a more natural weight for him,” Robie said. “It’s a weight that he has more confidence in himself at, and I think he has a very legitimate chance to win an NCAA title at 165.”
Robie also brings in a solid class of freshmen who can make an impact immediately. According to Intermat, the Hokies add the fifth-best recruiting class in the nation to an already talented squad.
“I’m really excited about a few guys,” Robie said. “I think there are probably two or three guys as true freshman that would be right in the mix to start for us this year if we choose not to redshirt them. Those guys are going to have a huge long-term impact on our program.”
Next year’s recruiting class is similarly talented. The Hokies have already received commitments from four of the top 25 wrestlers in the country according to FloWrestling’s rankings. The program continues to bring top-tier talent to Blacksburg and build towards future success.
“We work hard on the recruiting trail, and a lot of that is just about developing relationships with kids and their families,” Robie said. “The success that we have had on the mat and the program with Mekhi winning the national title gives them a certain level of confidence that they can accomplish their goals here.”
The Hokies have taken large steps over the past few years, including Lewis’s National Championship and four ACC Championships in the past seven seasons. However, they’ll be looking to take the next step as their season begins in just under a month when Tech welcomes Missouri to Cassell Coliseum.
“I don’t want to start talking about what we’re going to do or what we could do, I just want to see us improve throughout the course of the season,” Robie said. “I think we have a chance to be very good, consistent with where we have been over the last couple of years.”
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