Virginia Tech has one wrestler still alive in the semifinals after session three of the NCAA Wrestling Championships. Redshirt freshman Mekhi Lewis upset one-seed Alex Marinelli of Iowa to advance in the championship bracket. In doing so, he also earned All-American status in his first time competing in the tournament.
Lewis faced the undefeated Marinelli in the quarterfinals of NCAA Championships. They took each other to the wire, with a late-match takedown being the difference maker as Lewis picked up a 3-1 decision to advance to the semifinals, which will be held Friday night.
Lewis had faced Marinelli before in the World Team Trials last summer. That match gave him an idea of what to expect when they faced in Pittsburgh.
“It helped me a lot because I already knew how he was going to wrestle and I already know he knew how I was going to wrestle,” Lewis said. “I knew it was going to be a tight match. It was just whoever wanted it more.”
Both wrestlers were very physical the entire match, applying lots of pressure on each other and not letting up for the whole seven minutes.
“Ultimately I knew going in just handfighting was going to be the key to winning that match,” Lewis said. “I felt like I did a real good job handfighting with him because we were both tired at the end of the match.”
Neither wrestler was able to score in the first period of the match. Marinelli started on bottom in the second, and escaped before Lewis could get over one minute of riding time.
Lewis started the third period on bottom, and quickly escaped to tie the match at 1-1. Marinelli shot in for a takedown late in the third period, but wasn’t able to finish. When Lewis took a shot seconds later, he took down Marinelli to take a 3-1 lead and end up winning the match.
As the clock ticked down, the arena got louder as more eyes turned towards mat 6.
“As the match was going, it was just getting louder and louder to a point where you can’t hear your coaches, so you just have to wrestle on your own at one point, and then that’s what I did,” Lewis said.
The atmosphere was one of the biggest that Lewis has experienced in his career, and he embraced the moment after clinching his victory.
“It was crazy. I was excited because usually I don’t celebrate after a match,” Lewis said. “When I heard how loud it got, I was just like ‘I’ve got to celebrate.’ Yeah it was pretty cool and it’s just a different atmosphere and I like it.”
Lewis’ win marked the first time that a one-seed lost a match in this weekend’s tournament. Although it was a big upset, Lewis isn’t going to focus on this moment too much going forward.
“I don’t really like making a big deal out of matches because at the end of the day you’ll see them a whole bunch of times, so it’s just another match,” Lewis said.
The standout freshman will face Wisconsin’s Evan Wick in the semifinals on Friday night. Wick came in to the tournament as the four-seed with a 29-4 record.
Despite Lewis’ success in the quarterfinals, not much else went right for the Hokies in the third session of the weekend.
Korbin Myers got the morning started for Tech with a win in the consolation bracket. He pinned Gary Joint in the second period to give the Hokies some bonus points.
He moved on to face NC State’s Tariq Wilson in the next round, ultimately losing 13-0 to end his weekend at the NCAAs.
Freshman Mitch Moore took on Wyoming’s Sam Turner in the consolation bracket, dropping a 5-4 decision to end his weekend. Moore scored a takedown at the end of the third period to tie the match at 4-4, but the riding time point went in favor of Turner to give him the victory.
Ryan Blees’ career came to an end as the senior lost by fall to Russell Rohlfing. Blees kept the match close until he got turned to his back in the second period and ultimately got pinned. The 149-pounder finishes his career as a two-time NCAA qualifier.
B.C. LaPrade wasn’t able to get any momentum going for the Hokies at 157 as he dropped a 6-3 decision to Eric Barone.
The last Virginia Tech wrestler competing in the consolation bracket on Friday morning, David McFadden won a 6-2 decision to move on. He picked up a 7-3 decision over Rutgers’ Joseph Grello in the next round to move on to the second consolation round of eight.
The Hokies had two other wrestlers in the quarterfinals besides Lewis, but neither were able to advance to the semis. Senior Zack Zavatsky lost a 6-2 decision to Northern Iowa’s Drew Foster, ending his national championship hopes. Foster got a takedown early in the first period, and maintained control for most of the match as he beat Zavatsky for the third time this season.
Fellow senior Tom Sleigh faced two-seed Kollin Moore of Ohio State in the quarterfinals. Moore jumped out to an early lead, scoring takedown after takedown, but Sleigh was able to claw his way back and keep the score close. Sleigh trailed by as little as two points late in the match, but another takedown and the riding time point gave Moore the victory.
McFadden, Zavatsky and Sleigh each need to win one match tonight to reach All-American status. If they win both matches tonight, they’ll advance to the consolation semifinals, which will be held on Saturday morning.
The Hokies aren’t quite in the top 10 in team score, but they’re hanging around and they still have a shot at bringing home four All-Americans. Wrestling resumes at 8 p.m. Friday night with the semifinals and more consolation rounds taking place.