For the second consecutive year, a Virginia Tech wrestler took home a bunch of awards from The Gobblers.
After watching former wrestler Jared Haught claim three awards a year ago, Mekhi Lewis, a redshirt freshman from Bound Brook, New Jersey, topped that, winning awards for Championship Performance of the Year, wrestling team Most Valuable Player, Male Rookie of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year at the Virginia Tech Athletics Department’s end-of-year ESPY-style awards show held at the Moss Arts Center on April 29.
In its fourth year of existence, The Gobblers celebrates the top athletics accomplishments and community success stories by the university’s varsity student-athletes over the past year. This year’s event featured a pre-show sponsored by Terrace View Apartments and a live musical performance by two student-athletes – women’s soccer player S.A. Phillips and football player T.J. Jackson.
The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representatives for each team, head coaches, and staff members from the strategic communications office nominated and voted on most of the awards handed out. SAAC reps and support areas nominated student-athletes for the Golden Gobblers – the top award handed out to a male and female athlete who excels athletically and academically, with also a mindset for service and a motivation to help others – and SAAC reps conducted the final vote.
The winners of the Golden Gobblers were men’s basketball standout Justin Robinson and volleyball star Jaila Tolbert. Robinson guided the men’s basketball team to the Sweet 16 – the program’s first regional semifinal since 1966-67 – and averaged 13.5 points and 3.2 rebounds, and he also became the program’s all-time career assists leader. Tolbert repeated as the Golden Gobbler winner on the women’s side, earning second-team All-ACC honors, becoming the third Hokie to make back-to-back all-conference teams. She finished second on the team with 348 kills and led the squad in attack percentage (.280). Off the court, she attended the NCAA Convention as one of 32 student-athletes representing conferences nationwide.
Lewis, though, took home the most hardware after winning the national championship in his 165-pound weight class at the NCAA Wrestling Championships in late March, becoming the first Tech wrestler to win a national title. He beat three wrestlers seeded higher than him in the tournament on his way to the title. He also won an ACC title in his weight class, and he finished his debut season at Tech with a 28-2 record.
Rachel Pocratsky was the Female Athlete of the Year, while Dara Mabrey won the Female Rookie of the Year.
Pocratsky won the bronze medal in the 800-meter race at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in early March and earned first-team All-America honors for the second consecutive year. She also won two gold medals at the ACC Indoor Championships, taking victory in the 800 and anchoring the women’s distance medley relay team that easily bested the field.
Mabrey started all 34 games for the Tech women’s basketball team and set a program record with 80 3-pointers this season. She also led the squad with 92 assists and averaged 11.2 points per game, which ranked third on the team. She earned a spot on the All-ACC Freshman Team as a result of her performance this past season.
The department also recognized winners in the categories of Best Upset, Breakthrough Performance of the Year, Sports Moment of the Year, Best Game, and Championship Performance of the Year.
The Best Upset honor went to the Tech women’s soccer team, which knocked off then-No. 6 Virginia 1-0 in a downpour in Blacksburg earlier this past fall. The Breakthrough Performance of the Year award went to softball standout Darby Trull, who has started 49 of 50 games this season and is hitting .407, with seven homers and 36 RBI heading into the ACC Championship. Her sterling spring came one season after she hit just .233 as a freshman, with no homers and two RBI.
The Sports Moment of the Year honor went to football player Caleb Farley, who has overcome a serious knee injury and the death of his mother to be a starter at cornerback for the Hokies.
The Best Game went to the Tech football team, which trailed Virginia by a touchdown with 2:41 remaining, but rallied to forced overtime and then won 34-31 on a field goal by Brian Johnson. The Championship Performance of the Year honor went to Lewis for his 7-1 victory over Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph in the title match at the NCAA Championships.
In addition to these awards, the department recognized several others for service within the community. The ACC’s Top VI for Service Awards went to six student-athletes who demonstrated outstanding dedication to community service and outreach programs over the past year, and that group included Abby McKinzie (volleyball), Olivia Odle (women’s soccer), Sarah Spicer (women’s golf), Amanda Swaak (women’s cross country), Jaylyn Thompson (women’s soccer) and the Tech women’s tennis team.
The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) named softball player Kinsey Johnson as the SAAC Member of the Year. Voted on by SAAC representatives, the SAAC Member of the Year goes to a SAAC member who shows passion, commitment, and high involvement in SAAC initiatives throughout the year.
The athletics department reserved a portion of the evening to recognize the winner of the Frank Beamer Staff Excellence Award, an award named in honor of former football coach Frank Beamer and given annually to a department employee committed to integrity, service, honor and excellence. This year’s award went to Assistant Athletics Director for Outside Facilities Casey Underwood.
The Virginia Tech sports nutrition and strength and conditioning areas named athletes of the year as well, with the sport nutrition staff selecting winners based on their commitment to nutrition and the strength and condition staff determining theirs based on the student-athlete who unquestionably embodies the standards, morals and principles that the department stands for, while also putting strong numbers within the strength and conditioning program. The nutrition staff named lacrosse player Kelci O’Donnell and wrestler B.C. LaPrade as its Sports Nutrition Athlete of the Year.
There was one strength and conditioning Athlete of the Year per team, and the winners included: Luke Horanski (baseball), Ty Outlaw (men’s basketball), Ahmed Hill (men’s basketball), Erinn Brooks (women’s basketball), Steven Peoples (football), Slade Pickering (men’s golf), Amanda Hollandsworth (women’s golf), Mary Claire Byrne (lacrosse), Marc Hoppler (men’s soccer), Lilly Weber (women’s soccer), Maddi Banks (softball), Cal Barlik (spirit), Maggie Brothers (spirit), Ben Schiesl (men’s swimming and diving), Sydney Pesetti (women’s swimming and diving), Jason Kros (men’s tennis), Nika Kozar (women’s tennis), Michael Davenport (men’s track and field), Kennedy Dennis (women’s track and field), Talyn Jackson (volleyball), and Brooks Wilding (wrestling).
Finally, each team’s head coach determined a Most Valuable Player honoree. Those who won included: Ian Seymour (baseball), Ahmed Hill (men’s basketball), Regan Magarity (women’s basketball), Hamid Hafiz (cheerleading), Caitlin Lorch (cheerleading), Peter Seufer (men’s cross country), Sara Freix (women’s cross country), Ricky Walker (football), Connor Burgess (men’s golf), Emily Mahar (women’s golf), Becky Krashin (HighTechs), Paige Petty (lacrosse), Kristo Strickler (men’s soccer), Mandy McGlynn (women’s soccer), Carrie Eberle (softball), Lane Stone (men’s swimming and diving), Joelle Vereb (women’s swimming and diving), Ben Schiesl (men’s swimming and diving), Ashlynn Peters (women’s swimming and diving), Jason Kros (men’s tennis), Nika Kozar (women’s tennis), Isaiah Rogers (men’s indoor track and field), Sarah Edwards (women’s indoor track and field), Vincent Ciattei (men’s outdoor track and field), Rachel Pocratsky (women’s outdoor track and field), Jaila Tolbert (volleyball), and Mekhi Lewis (wrestling).