Virginia Tech wrestling is undefeated this season and is currently ranked fourth in the nation in this week’s NWCA Coaches Poll. However, two Hokies – Mekhi Lewis and Ty Walz – are making strides nationally as both qualified for the Olympic Trials this April.
Walz is currently an assistant with the program after earning All-American honors for the Hokies in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Lewis is taking his Olympic redshirt after winning the National Championship last season as a redshirt freshman.
“I was excited for them, but I wasn’t surprised because we expected those guys to be in that position,” said head coach Tony Robie. “I think they’re both among the best guys in the country, but I was overall pleased with how they performed.”
In order to reach the Trials, Lewis and Walz had to qualify at U.S. Senior Nationals by finishing in the top five in their weight class.
Both wrestlers went 4-1 in the tournament with Lewis finishing second in the 74-kilogram weight class and Walz finishing third in the 97-kilogram class. Lewis was undefeated until the championship match, where he lost 6-4 to Michigan’s Logan Massa.
“Mekhi had a great opportunity to win the Senior Nationals being in the finals, which is not an easy feat for a kid who is only 20 years old,” Robie said. “When we started this process, this is exactly where we wanted him to be.”
Walz, on the other hand, slipped up in the semi-finals against former North Dakota State wrester Hayden Zillmer. However, he bounced back to earn the bronze with an upset victory over top-seeded Kyven Gadson.
“I thought Ty wrestled as well as he has wrestled domestically in the last year to 18 months,” Robie said. “I was very pleased with how we wrestled.”
The Olympic Trials will take place April 4-5 in State College, PA. In order to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, Walz and Lewis will have to win their respective weight class. Each wrestler will be competing with seven or eight of the top wrestlers in the country to earn a spot in the Olympics.
“A lot of these guys have won NCAA titles or are very, very accomplished,” Robie said. “It’s tough, it makes the NCAA tournament look pretty easy, so they’ll both have to be on their game.”
Despite the three-month hiatus from tournaments, Walz and Lewis will still be working to be ready for the trials. This could include traveling to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in order to wrestle with the best in the nation.
“We try to get them as many workout partners as we possibly can,” Robie said. “Sometimes that requires them to leave home base here in Blacksburg to allow them to train with some different guys and focus solely on free style wrestling, which is a little different than the folkstyle wrestling we focus on during the season.”
Lewis, who won a National Championship last year, still has three years of eligibility left with the Hokies. This experience attempting to achieve his dream of wrestling in the Olympics will be invaluable to him as he continues his college career next season.
“Regardless of what happens this year, I think Mekhi is going to be in the conversation to be the best wrestler in the world at some point in his career,” Robie said. “This experience and where he’s at right now and how much he’s developed in the last three months is what this is all about.”
Not only will this be an important experience for the wrestlers, but also for the program. Virginia Tech having two wrestlers competing to go to the Olympics should help Robie continue to grow the program into one of the best in America.
“Ultimately, what the kids we’re recruiting want to do is have opportunities at the international level and make world and Olympic teams,” Robie said. “It’s a big deal, and it’s something that we have to continue to develop and grow and get bigger and better with it in the future.”
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