Mekhi Lewis celebrates after beating Alex Marinelli of Iowa in the NCAA quarterfinals (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Mekhi Lewis, redshirt freshman who made history by winning the 165-pound title for Virginia Tech at the 2019 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh last weekend -- and was named the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler -- can add another honor to his collegiate mat career: being named 2019 InterMat Freshman of the Year, the amateur wrestling website announced on Thursday.
This award, presented each year since 2006 to best college freshman wrestler in all divisions for his/her college wrestling performance during the 2018-2019 season, is based exclusively on the balloting of writers and executives at InterMat prior to the announcement of other national wrestling awards. Each staff member is asked to select five freshman wrestlers and rank them from first to fifth. Point values are assigned to each placement, ranging from one point to a wrestler listed fifth on a voter's ballot, up to nine points for a first-place vote.
Mekhi Lewis was the unanimous choice for InterMat Freshman of the Year honors, having been listed at the top of all ten ballots submitted by InterMat staffers, for a total of 90 votes.
Before arriving on the Virginia Tech campus, Mekhi Lewis was a two-time New Jersey state champ for Bound Brook High School. This past year, Lewis was crowned 2018 Junior world champ at 74 kilograms/163 pounds … then won the Atlantic Coast Conference title … then the national championship. He went 28-2 overall, with 13 bonus point victories.
Lewis continued that winning performance at the NCAAs. The No. 8 seed at 165 pounds pinned his first opponent (the 25th seed) and got a 4-1 decision over the No. 24 seed. In the quarterfinals, Lewis knocked off top-seeded Alex Marinelli of Iowa, 3-1 … then earned a 5-2 victory over Wisconsin's Evan Wick in the semifinals. In the title match, Lewis knocked off two-time NCAA champ Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State, 7-1.
Championships performances like Lewis' can bring to mind the phrase "Cinderella story."
"It's rare that you see an athlete hit the consciousness of a fan base in one big moment, but over the span of eight minutes last Saturday night Virginia Tech wrestler Mekhi Lewis went from a curiosity to a star in Hokie athletics," wrote Will Stewart in Tech Sideline, an independent sports publication covering Virginia Tech athletics, in an article titled "A Star Is Born" after Lewis' incredible title run at the 2019 NCAAs.
"… at the 2019 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh, there was a Cinderella story that would have done Bill Murray's Carl Spackler proud: Virginia Tech's Mekhi Lewis, seeded 8th in the 165-pound weight class, stormed to the championship, the first ever for a Virginia Tech wrestler. Lewis was the lowest-seeded wrestler to win it all, and he didn't sneak in the back door, either. Along the way, he beat the No. 1, No. 4 and No. 2 seeds."
Knocking off three of the top seeds at 165 wasn't the only magical aspect of Lewis' title run. He managed to defeat the two-time defending NCAA champ, Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State, by the score of 7-1 … making the redshirt freshman Virginia Tech's first NCAA champ in the nearly 90-year history of the championships.
If that weren't enough, Lewis was named the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler, the first time a wrestler from a school other than Penn State or Ohio State had won that honor since Cornell's Kyle Dake did it in 2013. And the first from the Atlantic Coast Conference to bring home the OW in a decade (North Carolina State's Darrion Caldwell last did it in 2009.)
2019 InterMat Freshman of the Year Voting Results
1st-5th Place Votes: 9-7-5-3-1
Total Votes/(First-Place Votes)
1. Mekhi Lewis, Virginia Tech 90 (10)
2. Gable Steveson, Minnesota 54
3. Daton Fix, Oklahoma State 49
4. Vito Arujau, Cornell 27
5. Austin O'Connor, North Carolina 18
6. Roman Bravo-Young, Penn State 6
7. Dom Demas, Oklahoma 4
8. Patrick Glory, Princeton 1
8. Brock Mauller, Missouri 1
InterMat Freshman of the Year Past Winners
2018: Spencer Lee, Iowa
2017: Mark Hall, Penn State
2016: Jason Nolf, Penn State
2015: Isaiah Martinez, Illinois
2014: Jason Tsirtsis, Northwestern
2013: Alex Dieringer, Oklahoma State
2012: Logan Stieber, Ohio State
2011: David Taylor, Penn State
2010: Kyle Dake, Cornell
2009: Andrew Howe, Wisconsin
2008: Mike Grey, Cornell
2007: Jake Varner, Iowa State
2006: Dustin Schlatter, Minnesota