Ask former teammates and coaches about Mack Lewnes and, of course, they talk about what a dominant wrestler he was.
However, that is not the most important message they wish to impart to capture the essence of the Annapolis native whose exploits on the mat have earned four Hall of Fame nods.
Jay Braunstein, who coached Lewnes at Mount Saint Joseph, recalls an immensely confident youngster who was incredibly smart and possessed natural leadership skills.
Rob Koll, who coached Lewnes at Cornell University, recalls a special athlete who cared deeply about others and was extremely introspective.
Mike Grey, who spent four years wrestling alongside Lewnes with the Big Red and was his college roommate, could not stress enough what a remarkable teammate his friend was.
Lewnes amassed some remarkable accomplishments during his wrestling career, but made sure the championships and accolades are not what defined him. For Lewnes, it was always about more than just what happened on the mat.
“Wrestling is an individual sport framed within the context of a team. I was always aware of my role within the team dynamic and felt that was very important,” Lewnes said. “I wanted to win for my team as much as for myself.”
Along the way, Lewnes was every bit as focused in the classroom as he was in the wrestling room. He graduated from Mount Saint Joseph with a perfect 4.0 GPA and earned a degree in hotel hospitality and administration from Cornell on the strength of a 3.0 GPA.
Lewnes, who was twice named All-Metro Wrestler of the Year by The Baltimore Sun and became a three-time All-American at Cornell, will be inducted into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame next month.
The lifelong Eastport resident will be the sixth wrestler enshrined, joining Lloyd Keaser (1991), Tyrone Neal Sr. (1999), Larry Avery (2007), John Dolch (2011) and Todd Beckerman (2021).
Lewnes is part of a proud wrestling family as his father and older brother both excelled in the sport.
Charlie Lewnes might be the finest wrestler to ever come out of Annapolis High and earned a scholarship to perennial powerhouse Oklahoma. Sam Lewnes fashioned a remarkable career at Mount Saint Joseph then followed in his father’s footsteps as a Big 12 Conference recruit — choosing Oklahoma State.
The Lewnes brothers are both products of the Navy Junior Wrestling program, widely recognized as one of the finest in the state. They learned the basic fundamentals of the sport from a pair of legends in Kelly Ward and Wayne Hicks.
Ward was a three-time NCAA finalist for Iowa State, capturing the national championship in 1979 to finish with a 126-10-2 career record. The Montgomery County native served four years as an assistant coach at Nebraska before settling in Annapolis. He is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Hicks was a two-time Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association champion and an NCAA finalist in 1965 while at the Naval Academy. He placed third at the United States World Championship team trials while in the service and later returned to the academy as an assistant under legendary head coach Ed Peery.
The longtime Annapolis resident, who coached on the high school level at Old Mill and St. Mary’s, received the Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“We’re very fortunate to have that caliber of wrestling coaches in Annapolis,” said Mack Lewnes, who started in the sport at the age of six. “Kelly and Wayne were the foundation for everything I did. I learned so much from those two men.”
Lewnes, was three years younger than Sam, recalls struggling for several years before finally figuring things out. He recalls an unexpected pin of Dave Dulski, one of the top juniors in the state, as a turning point.
Braunstein, an Annapolis native, pulled off quite a coup by recruiting four Naval Academy Junior wrestling standouts — Lewnes, Dulski, John Kohler and Alex Ward — to Mount Saint Joseph. Those four would form the foundation of a squad that wound up winning the prestigious Powerade Tournament and being ranked 12th nationally.
“I’m so grateful to have been part of a great program filled with so many great wrestlers and coaches. It was iron sharpening iron at St. Joe,” Lewnes said. “Jay Braunstein was such an amazing technician and he took me to next level in terms of technique. Jay was so instrumental in transforming me into an elite competitor.”
Lewnes, who wrestled at 152 pounds as a freshman and sophomore then 160 pounds as a junior and senior, enjoyed unprecedented success at the Catonsville school. He was a four-time MIAA Conference and Maryland Independent Schools champion. He was a four-time finalist at the National Preparatory Championships and a two-time winner.
Lewnes captured the prestigious Beast of the East Tournament title — coming from behind to beat future Ohio State standout Mike Pucillo in the finals. Pucillo captured the 184-pound national championship in 2008.
“Beast of the East was the top-ranked tournament in the country, so it was very meaningful to win that,” he said.
Lewnes, who compiled a 151-12 career record at Mount Saint Joseph, was presented with the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a senior.
Braunstein first laid eyes on Mack Lewnes when he was recruiting his older brother.
“Mack was a sixth grader betting ninth graders $5 per takedown and was kicking their butts,” Braunstein recalled.
Braunstein described Lewnes as a leader among a team of wrestlers who were all intensely driven. He gave the younger Lewnes immense credit for Mount Saint Joseph becoming a national powerhouse during that period.
“Mack was a special kid from day one — a true builder who the other wrestlers wanted to be around and follow,” said Braunstein, who wrestled at Clarion.
Lewnes rarely lost during his high school days, and the occasions he did were cause for deep reflection.
“After a loss, Mack would go all the way to the top of the stands and just sit there thinking about what wrong. He was very good at diagnosing and fixing any mistakes,” Braunstein said.
Charlie Lewnes instilled in his sons the importance of having core strength, powerful hips and vise grips. Mack Lewnes started lifting weights in seventh grade and took his father’s advice by grip workouts.
“It was hard to take me down or get me out of position. I’d like to think I was a difficult guy to wrestle,” Lewnes said of the high school version of himself. “I had great strength and stamina and good feel for positioning. Coach Hicks always said I had a gyroscope inside of me because I always wound up on top.”
Added Braunstein: Mack was literally unstoppable in all phases. He was great on his feet or working from on top or bottom.”
Lewnes planned to follow Sam to Oklahoma State, but figured he should take a few official visits to other schools. Koll was in the process of rebuilding the Cornell program and wanted Lewnes to be a linchpin of the process.
It helped Koll’s chances that Cornell had the top-rated hospitality program in the country. Sam and Mack Lewnes both majored in that arena because their future was to work in the family business — renowned Lewnes Steakhouse in Eastport.
“I took an official visit to Cornell and fell in love with team culture,” Lewnes said. “I felt like I could start a tremendous tradition at Cornell.”
After spending a gap year at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Lewnes arrived in Ithaca and found himself sparring regularly with Jordan Leen, a three-time All-American and NCAA champion at 157 pounds in 2008.
“I got my butt kicked in the practice room as a freshman, which was a humbling experience. I learned a lot about what it took to be a collegiate wrestler,” he said.
Lewnes proved a quick study as he steadily rose through the national rankings at 165 pounds as a freshman. He captured the first of four Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association championships as a freshman then finished fourth at the NCAA Tournament to earn the first of three All-American honors.
“I really enjoyed climbing the ladder and kind of establishing a reputation that first year,” Lewnes said. “It wasn’t as fun trying to maintain that status and stay at the top.”
As a sophomore, Lewnes was undefeated and seeded No. 1 going into the NCAA Championships. He caught a virus at the wrong time and wound up losing two straight matches out of the gate to get eliminated.
It was a bitter pill to swallow and, in hindsight, Lewnes knows he should have told the training staff he was dealing with sickness after battling chills while trying to cut weight in the days leading up to the tournament.
That disappointment prompted Lewnes to move up to 174 pounds as a junior so he would not need to shed so many pounds all the time. It was a smooth transition as Lewnes was repeated as Ivy League Wrestler of the Year after compiling a 40-1 record with 14 pins.
Lewnes reached the cusp of a coveted national championship, falling to Iowa’s Jay Borschel in the finals. That runner-up result would be the best at nationals for Lewnes, who lost to three-time NCAA champion Ed Ruth in the semifinals as a senior and finished fourth again.
Koll, who led Cornell to a 317-101-5 record along with 20 Ivy League and 13 EIWA championships during a 28-year tenure, remembers future four-time world champion Kyle Dake struggling to score a single point against Lewnes during practice sessions.
“Mack is without doubt the most dominant wrestler I have ever coached who never won an NCAA title,” Koll said. “In addition to his outstanding wrestling skills, Mack was also one of the most generous and thoughtful young men I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching.
“During his career, Mack quietly helped turn Cornell wrestling into a national powerhouse.”
Lewnes graduated as Cornell’s all-time leader for career wins (150) and still holds the program mark for career pins (55) and bonus point wins (91). He was only the ninth four-time EIWA champion since the organization was established in 1905.
During the summer between his sophomore and junior seasons, Lewnes captured the 2010 University Freestyle National Championship. He was crowned champion in 15 of 16 regular season tournaments as a collegian.
“I think Mack’s mentality is what set him apart. He was such a fierce competitor and was never satisfied,” said Grey, a two-time All-American who is now head coach at Cornell. “I will always remember Mack as the consummate teammate, someone who gave so much of himself for others.
“Mack is just an outstanding person and I think that moral fiber led to a lot of his success.”
Lewnes has already been inducted into the Mount Saint Joseph Hall of Fame (2016), Cornell Hall of Fame (2022) and Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Hall of Fame (2011).
When: Wednesday, Oct. 12
Where: DoubleTree Hotel, Annapolis
Tickets: $50 each; $500 for table of 10