PITTSBURGH — It's been quite the night already here in PPG Paints Arena, and, against a two-time national champion, Virginia Tech's Mekhi Lewis decided it was time to write some history of his own.
The redshirt freshman had never been to the NCAA tournament, never mind an NCAA final, before this year. He worked his way through the 165-pound bracket, pinning Cam Coy of Virginia and beating Cael McCormick of Army before pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the quarterfinals and taking down No. 1-seeded Alex Marinelli. That win made headlines and sent the 2019 Big Ten champion down to the consoles where he would ultimately finish seventh. Lewis, however, was still alive on the championship side, and he was just getting started.
In the semifinals, the first-time All-American Hokie took on Evan Wick of Wisconsin, last year's third-place finisher, and pulled off a 5-2 upset win. The No. 8 seed was heading to the finals.
Mekhi Lewis vs. Vicenzo Joseph. The names rolled off the announcers tongue as the finals started in the exact dramatic way they should to start a championship final. It was time for Lewis to test himself again.
Lewis came out a mission and took the defending champ to task. An early cradle nearly put Joseph on his back, but the Nittany Lion survived, only to be taken down again. A physical battle and a relentless spirit from the true freshman overpowered the Penn State junior, and Lewis, to the delight of his fan base in the stands, became a national champion.
"It means a lot, because Virginia Tech wrestling has been really good," Lewis said after his match. "It's just that we never really had good Finals, good end results. So to be the first one is really special. It means a lot to me. Just so happy that I'm a part of the program."
Knowing that he was going down in the Hokie history books forever, Lewis showed pure elation standing on the podium, almost as if he couldn't believe what had just really happened.
"Everybody, other than my teammate's, family and coaches and fans, thought I was the underdog. I didn't think I was the underdog. I just thought people didn't get the chance to see me wrestle at a big stage, like, folkstyle, because they only saw freestyle," Lewis said. "And I just felt like I was like I was prepared and ready to win a national title. So I felt equal to everybody I wrestled."
Turns out, he wasn't equal, he was better. Go ahead and add Virginia Tech to the list of schools with national champions. The Hokies have Lewis to thank for that.