Finding success: McNally puts together 29-6 inaugural season

Andrew McNally wrestles against Buffalo’s Logan Rill on Jan. 26. McNally defeated Rill, earning his 26th victory of the year. 

Brandon Lewis

Two weeks after the 2018 NCAA tournament,  Andrew McNally received a mass group text from Eastern Michigan’s Athletic Director Scott Wetherbee.

The text — which was sent to the wrestling, softball, men’s swimming and diving and women’s tennis teams — stated that those teams needed to report to EMU’s Convocation Center at 7:30 a.m. the next morning.

McNally and the other wrestlers he lived with had no idea of what was going on. Some of them joked that the whole program was being cut.

It wasn’t a joke.

At the meeting, Wetherbee told the athletes that all four teams were being eliminated.

“We were told that we were the least money-making sports, and that the university could unfortunately no longer afford us,” McNally said.

It wasn’t until that night that it set in for McNally and the rest of the wrestlers.

Mcnally fell in love with wrestling at the age of 12, and went to Eastern Michigan in the hopes of cementing his name among the school’s wrestling greats. Now, nine months after he first stepped foot on EMU’s campus, he was already looking for another school.

In the months following, McNally received offers from Clarion, West Virginia and Kent State. McNally and his father made a decision based on what was best for his future.

“When we sat down to decide where I was going to go, it did not take very long to decide,” McNally said. “Kent State made the most sense. They gave me the best scholarship offer, and I wanted to be a good distance from my parents where I wasn’t too close, but they could come and watch me wrestle.”

When McNally arrived on campus for the first time in the summer of 2018, he immediately began training to get better on the mat.

Bob Lemieux, Kent State’s director of sports performance and head strength and conditioning coach for wrestling, said he worked with McNally in the summer to get to know him and to get a head start on training.

“I wanted to get McNally in early in the summer, and see what he was all about,” Lemieux said. “I wanted to see how he was as a person, what he was exposed to at Eastern Michigan, and what he needed to work on entering this season.”

Lemieux said the extra training helped McNally gain muscle over the summer and fall, and that extra muscle has helped him be more productive during his matches.

“He was able to gain anywhere between 10 and 12 pounds,” Lemieux said. “It has helped with his durability when he wrestles.”

At Eastern Michigan, he wrestled at 174 pounds compared to the 184 pounds he’s wrestling at for the Flashes. McNally’s record this season currently sits at 29-6.

Lemieux said McNally’s work ethic and his ability to adapt to different training styles is why it has been a lot of fun to work with him over the past eight months.

“He’s such a hard worker, so I’m not going to take any credit for his success,” Lemieux said. “As a coach, it’s really easy to work with guys that come in and work hard every day. When he first got here, he was a little reluctant to learn how we did some things different here than Eastern Michigan. When transfers come in, they have the mindset that they are here to wrestle, and that we are training them into bodybuilders so I wanted to make sure he knew I was his strength and conditioning coach and not his weight lifting coach.

Going into the season, McNally said one of his goals was to improve on a subpar freshman year by his standards.

“I only went 16-13,” McNally said. “That’s not good enough for me.”

McNally said every time he loses a match, it motivates him to get better.

“My high school coach used to tell me that I hate to lose when I look at (my opponent) winning,” McNally said. “I think about if I lose sometimes because I just can’t stand the feeling of losing.”

One of the ways McNally has gotten better is by wrestling constantly with coach Shawn Scott. Scott worked as a graduate assistant at Eastern Michigan last year, so they already knew each other prior to Kent State. Scott thinks McNally gaining more experience from year one to year two has been the biggest difference he’s seen.

“As guys get more and more into their wrestling career, they start maturing,” Scott said. “That’s the biggest thing right now with McNally is his maturity level has grown a lot, and he’s picked up way more looks than what he knew last year. The biggest thing I can do with him is to keep wrestling him every day, give him different looks and push him more.

As the regular season ends, McNally said his focus is on the NCAA tournament.

“I’ve always wanted to be a National Champion,” McNally said. “Since I was in sixth grade, I’ve watched the national tournament on TV, and I’m going to be finally wrestling in it, and that’s a dream come true. I just want people to know that I wanna be the best I can be. I’m not going let what happened at Eastern Michigan phase me. My goal is to be a National Champion for Kent State, and I’m going keep moving forward in my wrestling career and hope one day I reach that goal.”

 Brandon Lewis is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected]