Virginia Tech's Mekhi Lewis celebrates after beating Alex Marinelli of Iowa in the NCAA quarterfinals (Photo/Juan Garcia)
BLACKSBURG -- Junior world champion and NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis will not compete for Virginia Tech in the upcoming 2019-20 season and will instead use an Olympic redshirt to train and qualify for the 2020 United States Olympic Team Trials on April 4-5, 2020 in State College, Pennsylvania.
Lewis' gold medal performance at the 2018 Junior World Championships met one of USA Wrestling's four criteria for an Olympic redshirt. Lewis will retain his year of NCAA eligibility through the athletics activity waiver. The waiver allows student-athletes to train for senior level competition - in this case the Olympic Trials - and retain one year of eligibility from the NCAA.
"After speaking with my coaches, mentors and family, I feel like I'm ready to jump into this Olympic year with both feet," Lewis said. "I didn't take this decision lightly. I understand that making the 2020 Olympic team and competing for Team USA in Tokyo will be difficult, but I know that deep down I can get the job done. Thank you to the Hokie Nation for your support. I'm looking forward to doing what I do for the Hokies in 2020-21!"
"As the head wrestling coach at Virginia Tech and the director of the Southeast Regional Training Center, I have a strong obligation to put Mekhi in the best position possible to accomplish his goals," Virginia Tech wrestling head coach Robie said. "Mekhi is a special talent and he has the ability to become the best in the world. Taking this year to focus solely on freestyle wrestling, international competition and preparing for the Olympic Trials is ultimately the best thing for his development."
Lewis, who will still be training in Blacksburg with the Southeast Regional Training Center, will next travel to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado for a 10-week training camp before his first scheduled competition at the Dmitry Korkin International in Yakutia, Russia on Oct. 10-13. His first Olympic Trials qualifying event will be the Bill Farrell Memorial Open in New York City from Nov. 15-16.
"The Olympic games is the pinnacle in the sport of wrestling and as an athlete, you have limited opportunities at it," Robie continued. "Mekhi Lewis is ready, and I think he is among the best in the world. We are excited to support him in his quest to win Olympic gold."
In 2018-19, Lewis pieced together one of the more memorable seasons in the history of Virginia Tech athletics. The Bound Brook, New Jersey native began the year by winning a gold medal at the 2018 Junior World Championships in Trnava, Slovakia. He returned to the Hokies and turned in a 20-2 record during the regular season before claiming the ACC championship at 165 pounds. Lewis entered the 2019 NCAA Championships as the No. 8 seed and after advancing to the quarterfinals proceeded to knock the No. 1, No. 4 and No. 2 seeds in succession to win Tech's first individual NCAA title in wrestling. Lewis' 7-1 decision in the finals over two-time defending champion Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State helped him seal NWCA Most Outstanding Wrestler honors.
The Hokies return four NCAA qualifiers from last year's squad, including two-time ACC champion and three-time All-American David McFadden and ACC Freshman of the Year Mitch Moore. Robie, the reigning ACC Coach of the Year, signed a consensus top five recruiting class that features four prospects who finished in the top 100 of FloWrestling's Class of 2019 Big Board.