Mekhi Lewis Q&A: Looking to become two-time NCAA champion, relationship with coach Tony Robie, more
by Joe Wedra, USA Wrestling
Photo by Tony Rotundo
This year, themat.com will interview one collegiate wrestling athlete each week as a part of a new Q&A series for the 2021-22 college wrestling season. Stay tuned each Thursday for a new feature, spotlighting these student-athletes both on and off the mat.
This week, we talk with Virginia Tech standout Mekhi Lewis, a 2019 NCAA champion and 2018 Junior World champion. Lewis, a redshirt junior, is competing at 174 pounds for the Hokies this season.
Below, the Bound Brook, New Jersey native talks about a variety of topics leading into the postseason, including his relationship with head coach Tony Robie and training alongside U.S. World team member James Green.
Q: First off, what is it like to be back on the mat and looking ahead to the NCAA tournament, where you won in 2019, it was cancelled in 2020 and you had to default due to injury in 2021?
A: It’s been pretty good. I’ve really been trying to focus mostly on the day-by-day. But, I’m really happy with where I’m at and I’m excited as I look ahead to Nationals… I haven’t thought about it much, because I’ve already wrestled at Nationals before. I kind of know the experience part of it, so I haven’t been thinking about it as much like I did in my freshman year.
Q: You mention that freshman year, when you were the No. 8 seed at 165 pounds and then ultimately won the title. What was your mindset going into your first NCAAs?
A: I was basically just excited. I didn’t put a ton of pressure on myself, so I didn’t really have a lot of nerves. I was just excited to be there. So I thought, I might as well go, do my best and basically whatever happens is going to happen. I knew as long as I just gave a lot of effort and wrestled the best I can, I was going to be fine with any result that happened.
Q: Is that a mindset that you’ve always had? Have you ever been one to get nervous before big events/matches, or is that composed mindset something you’ve always carried with you?
A: Well, I used to get really nervous before a lot of big matches. And my coaches knew that. Coach [Tony] Robie [Virginia Tech’s head coach] would tell me all the time that I didn’t really have anything to prove, and that he would be satisfied with the outcome of my match as long as I just went out and wrestled hard, not worrying about winning or losing.
Q: Talking about Coach Robie, what does he mean to you personally and what is your relationship like with him?
A: Coach Robie means a lot to me. It’s not even just on the mat either at this point. It’s also off the mat too, because a lot of times, people don’t see this, but he takes care of me even if I’m going through something at a particular time. He will always be there for me. I always know that he has my back and he wants the best for me. Having that relationship and knowing that over these past years, we’ve grown to be this close, it’s pretty cool. I appreciate Coach Robie and everything he’s given me. Every opportunity he’s provided and just everything, I appreciate all of it.
Q: Who are your favorite guys to roll around with in the Virginia Tech room, and who is someone who maybe not a lot of people know about, but has helped you out over the past few years?
A: I roll around with a lot of heavier guys now, which is funny. Cody Howard, Andy Smith, one of our backup 184-pounders Sam Fisher… sometimes, I wrestle with Clayton Ulrey too. I do roll around with James [Green] some, and that’s about it.
I guess my favorite practice partner would probably be Sam Fisher because he gives me the feels that I need for my upcoming matches, because he wrestles very similar to a lot of guys I wrestle. Him and Cody – because during live, Cody never gets tired. He always pushes me to go harder.
Q: What has it been like to have James Green around and in the room?
A: It’s been pretty cool, honestly, just to pick his brain. He’s a multiple-time World team member and he also medaled, so just having a guy like that with his experience is a lot of help. He also is just a cool guy. He’s so laid-back. It was easy for all of us, really, to accept him into Virginia Tech wrestling because he is such a cool guy.
He wants to help you, too… I think that’s pretty cool.
Q: As you look ahead to this postseason as a whole, this Virginia Tech team has potential to do special things. When you look ahead to the end of this year, what are you most looking forward to doing not just as an individual, but for the entire team?
A: As a team, of course we want to get a trophy at NCAAs. We want to win ACCs. But I think more so, we’re looking forward to doing it as a whole and a collective unit – actually pushing each other to wrestling the best we can possibly wrestle and being the best we can be.
I think it’s going to be pretty fun and interesting to see the outcomes, especially for our team because most of us are going to be able to come back. It’s pretty exciting also for the seniors. Just to send them off with a good ending to their careers would be pretty exciting for all of us.