KENT  When Andrew McNally graduated from Lake High School in 2016 and headed north to begin his college career at Eastern Michigan University, he couldn’t have imagined he’d end up moving back to Northeast Ohio before it was over.

McNally, who committed to wrestle for EMU, was among the athletes left trying to figure out their next move when the university eliminated its wrestling program. That development led him to Kent State and in his first season with the Golden Flashes, to his first appearance at the NCAA Division I wrestling championships last month.

“Obviously, I went to Eastern Michigan and I had a lot of connections there with the coaches and with (former Lake standout) Zac Carson,” McNally said. “When program got cut, I didn’t really have a whole lot of schools coming at me and the scholarship offers weren’t near what I was getting at Eastern.”

The main contenders for McNally’s new home were West Virginia, Clarion and Kent State. He recalled how Kent State head coach Jim Andrassy came to his house to talk to him during the recruiting process in high school and remembering that part of the process, he identified the Flashes as a favorable landing spot in the transfer process.

As with the University of Akron eliminating its baseball program a few years ago - the university has since restarted the program and it will begin play next year - athletes from the EMU wrestling program were free to transfer to a new school and compete immediately without having to sit out a season.

After hearing from the Kent State coaches that he would be “an asset to their team,” McNally made the decision to join the Flashes and major in computer information systems.

Wrestling at 184 pounds - a weight he had difficulty reaching at times - McNally led the team in wins with a 33-9 record and battled his way to the NCAA championships, where he lost his first match before rallying with a win to keep himself alive before bowing out with a loss the following day.

“It was an awesome experience … amazing. I loved it, wrestling in front of big crowds … it was like the state tournament again but bigger,” McNally said. “I feel like I could have done a lot better and I could have done better especially in my first match. Obviously, there’s some technical stuff I need to work on like finishing my shots.”

Still, McNally wonders if he may have more success going forward wrestling at 174 pounds instead of 184. He woke up the first day of the championships weighing 179 pounds and drank a lot of water while trying to get his weight up closer to 184.

His time at the championships was also highlighted by seeing some of his former Federal League rivals on the arena floor. He saw former Perry standout David Carr but didn’t get a chance to talk to him, but did get to chat with Victor Marcelli, the University of Virginia freshman who is redshirting for the Cavaliers after a strong career at Jackson, but was on hand to help warm up some of his Virginia teammates who were competing.

Seeing those rivals made McNally feel proud of what the Federal League is accomplishing in the sport and the quality of its competitors.

As he walked off the mat following his final match at the NCAA championships, McNally says he was both unhappy to have lost, but also immediately shifting his focus to what was next.

“I was definitely disappointed right after I lost, but I don’t really let it get to me that much,” McNally said. “I’m always trying to think of the future, to think positively and think about what I want to do next year.”

Next year, he hopes, will bring a return to the national championships and a better result than this season, among other things. Long term, he believes that he may be able to continue wrestling after college and beyond that, may want to get into coaching to stay connected to the sport. He hasn’t pinpointed exactly what he wants to do with his degree and career after graduation, but his path to this point has shown him that life can take surprise twists - sometimes in a positive way.

 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936 or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com

On Twitter: @aharrisBURB