After agonizing setback at the NCAA tournament in 2009, Mack Lewnes, Cornell Junior at 174lbs, is rolling through opponents like a 16lbs bowling ball scrambles pins on a strike. In early season results, he won the Las Vegas Invitational with a finals victory over 3rd ranked Stephen Dwyer of Nebraska, the Body Bar Invitational, the Binghamton Open and two dominating victories over Maryland’s formerly number 4 ranked Mike Letts.
Lewnes is a four-time Maryland state champion out of perennial powerhouse Mount St. Josephs. His plans for college were set on following his brother at Oklahoma State where he’d been training every summer since his freshman year. At the urging of his parents, he decided to visit other universities. Growing up around the family restaurant, he had his mind set on studying hospitality which led him to consider Cornell’s number one hospitality school in the nation, if not the world.
Situated on a hilltop overlooking 40-mile-long, 400-foot-deep Cayuga Lake, the campus has a breathtaking ambience that draws you in. Once Lewnes stepped foot on campus, toured the hospitality school, and set his sights on the Friedman center, he was nearly sold. “I saw that, and it got me fired up. The Friedman center is truly spectacular,” said Lewnes.
After recently coming off consecutive 4th and a 5th place NCAA finishes, Cornell had firmly established itself as a top-ten program. With a future number one finish at NCAA, Cornell had a chance to be written into the history books as the first Ivy League team to win a championship. This opportunity had special allure to Lewnes. “I thought I’d like to be part of an opportunity like that.”
There was only one problem: Lewnes knew he wanted to redshirt his freshman year, but Ivy leagues prohibited redshirting. At the suggestion of Coach Koll, Lewnes decided to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for a year before attending college. “It got me training hard every day. It got me really prepared for the hard work I would have to do in college,” said Lewnes.
Lewnes’ freshman campaign with Cornell was nothing short of spectacular. After placing forth, he was ready to lay claim to the championship his sophomore season. Finishing the dual meet season with a perfect 35-0 record, he earned the first seed in the NCAA Championships. However, the path to an NCAA title can never be taken for granted. It’s a grueling tournament where every competitor lays it all on the line for the title. In the decade of the millennium six number one seeds have walked away empty handed: there was Reggie Wright (149) of Oklahoma State in 2001, Scott Justus (184) of Virginia Tech in 2002, Greg Jones (174) of West Virginia in 2003, Alex Tirapelle (157) of Illionois in 2005, Max Askren(197) of Missouri in 2007, and Mack Lewnes (165) of Cornell in 2009.
No doubt the memory is painful. “Entering the NCAA tournament undefeated, putting in all the grunt work, earning the number one seed and losing at nationals is probably the worst thing that could happen to a college wrestler,” said Lewnes. Short of a career ending injury, the only thing worse for a promising wrestler would have been to experience a setback like that in one’s senior year. “Now, it’s past me. I can’t hit bottom any worse, so I’m just going keep wrestling hard and hopefully be a two-time national champ instead of a three.”
It wasn’t long before Lewnes decided to dust off the headgear and begin anew the work of preparing for a title. With less pressure of an off season tournament, he entered the prestigious University Nationals at 84kg (185lbs) in April. Giving up so much weight, he never expected to make it to the 2nd day, never mind win. In spite of bumping up two weight classes, Lewnes won his first national championship in a braket having over 64 wrestlers with many who wrestled 174lbs and 184lbs during the regulation season.
Having success at the higher weight, Lewnes with his coach decided to compete at the 174lb weight class this season. “I feel strong. I’m a lot happier,” said Lewnes. With the confidence of a newly minted national title, Lewnes aims to carry his off season success into the 2010 championships at Nebraska. If the start of the season is any indication, it appears that Lewnes is right on track to a national title, and if all goes to perfection, Cornell may just make the history books in 2010.
What follows are some questions we asked Lewnes and his answers…
LHW: What kind of competitor were you when you first started (successful, mixed, not so good, etc)?
Lewnes: When I first started, I was quite young at the age of six. Needless to say, wrestling consisted of a lot of rolling around and seeing who ended up on top. Nevertheless, from the start I seemed to usually move in the right way to end up on top as if I had a gyroscope in my hips.
LHW: What’s the best wrestling advice that anyone has given you?
Lewnes: So much advice over the years of wrestling. if had to think of a few that stick out, it would “Control your opponents hands and head and don’t let them control your hands and head” and to be a “sponge and take in all the wrestling knowledge you can no matter who its from, whether it be an Olympic champ or a grade school wrestler”
LHW: What would be the best advice you could give any wrestler reading this?
Lewnes: Some good advice that I think I could pass on is that Technique always beats strength.
LHW: Why do you wrestle? Why not some other sport?
Lewnes: I played a lot of sports throughout my life from lacrosse, tennis, baseball, to football. All of them are a lot of fun, but it’s very hard to beat how fun wrestling is. Wrestling is intricate and complex, which is exactly what makes it one of the most fulfilling sports to become accomplished in. Wrestling is the most rewarding sport I know.
LHW: What person(s) has had the biggest impact on your wrestling career, how, and why?
Lewnes: My father has had the biggest impact on me because he was the one who got my brother and I interested. He supported me, taught me, and was the one who took me to every tournament so I could get better.
LHW: What’s your most memorable match and why?
Lewnes: If I had to say just one match, it would be my sophomore year in high school when I won the Beast of the East tournament. It was the first time I realized I was a contender to be one of the top wrestlers in the nation. It gave me the new goal of becoming the best to strive for.
LHW: What’s your favorite movie and What about it makes it your favorite?
Lewnes: An impossible question for any true movie lover, since there are so many great movies. If I had to say just one, it could be Braveheart. The story structure and writing were remarkable. The movie was revolutionary for its time and thus copied in many other movies. Not only was it action packed, but it was truly emotionally provoking. The music was amazing and original as well.