2019 NCAA Champion Mekhi Lewis will take an Olympic Redshirt during the 2019-20 NCAA season, the Virginia Tech wrestling team announced. By winning the 2018 Junior World Championships, Lewis is eligible to train and qualify for the 2020 Olympic Team Trials while retaining a year of NCAA eligibility.
Lewis put together one of the most memorable seasons in Hokies Wrestling history last year, going 28-2 while winning the ACC Championships and securing Virginia Tech's first ever national title by winning the championship at 165 pounds.
"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 in a press release. "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!"
Lewis will continue to train in Blacksburg with the Southeast Regional Training Center while also training in Colorado and competing internationally. He will report to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for a 10-week training program before competing in the Dmitry Korkin International in Yakutia, Russia on Oct. 10-13.
His first step in qualifying for the Olympic Trials will be the Bill Farrell Memorial Open in New York City in November.
While Lewis competes to represent the United States in Tokyo in 2020, his presence in the Hokies' roster will be missed. Lewis was a dominant force for Tech this past season, and along with 174-pounder David McFadden and 184-pounder Zack Zavatsky, formed one of the best upper weight trios in the country.
It's tough to say who will replace Lewis in the 165-pound spot this season. The Hokies only had one other 165-pounder on the 2018-19 roster, Jordan Florence. Florence will be a redshirt freshman next season and could hold down the spot while Lewis is training for the Olympics. Florence was a Virginia State Champion in high school and went 3-4 this year in open tournaments.
Another option for the Hokies would be incoming freshman Dan Mancini. A Pennsylvania native, Mancini was ranked No. 10 in the country at 160 pounds by Intermat and 85th overall by FloWrestling in the class of 2019.
The Hokies have options to replace Lewis this season, and are still returning four qualifiers from the 2019 NCAA Championships. While fans will miss seeing Lewis rack up bonus point victories in Cassell this season, they should be tuned in on his journey to representing the Hokies and the SERTC on the biggest wrestling stage in the world.
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics