Taywone McNack is going to abstain from barbeque — but only until Sunday.
McNack, a McLain senior fresh off a regional championship, is headed back the Class 4A state wrestling tournament this weekend. Last year, McNack suffered a 3-2 decision loss to Harrah’s Braden Visnieski, and McNack then fell short of the consolation finals with a 18-6 major decision loss to Cleveland’s Tyler West.
So, how will McNack approach this year’s state tournament differently?
“It is funny that you asked,” he said, “but don’t eat a slab of ribs the day before the tournament, but instead come in on weight.”
The resistance will be tough, but it could pave the way to a better outcome this season for McNack, who is matched up against Cascia Hall’s D.J. Anderson in the opening round of the 120-pound weight class.
And when it comes to momentum, McNack has a boatload of it headed with him to Oklahoma City.
Last weekend, McNack scored a 10-6 victory over Cleveland’s Blake Hickerson to claim a regional championship. Not too shabby for a wrestler who only truly invested into the sport a few years ago.
“It is only my third year of wrestling,” said McNack, who is 34-6 this season. “And that is a big accomplishment.”
In fact, McNack’s regional supremacy is only the second time this season he’s won a tournament. He had posted third-place finishes at tournaments in Cushing, Catoosa and Bishop Kelley, while topping the field at the Skiatook field this year.
“I shot for first at every one, but things did not always go my way,” McNack said of previous outcomes this season. “It was special winning Skiatook, because that was my first tournament to be champion since I started wrestling my sophomore year. Adding on the regional title was very special to me, because I worked very hard and feel like I deserved it.”
McNack’s performance has also provided a spotlight to a program that had gone virtually noticed until McNack, Jelani Lewis (22) and Hollis Tuggle (in the heavyweight class) qualified for last year’s state tournament. But if you ask McLain coach J. Paul Ganzel, it’s all been part of the plan.
“When I was hired as head wrestling coach, our (athletic director’s) three-year goals were: qualify a wrestler to the state tournament and win a dual,” Ganzel recalled. “On year one, we only had four wrestlers in the room and won only one match in our single dual and the regional tournament.”
But then McLain made vast improvements — and in short order, too.
“Year two we inspired more interest in the sport from the students, meaning more numbers in the room, and we won four duals, as well as qualifying Jelani Lewis to the state tournament,” Ganzel said. “Last year, year three, we entered several dual tournaments with the goal of getting as much individual experience as possible, and this turned into 11 dual wins as well as qualifying three to state.”
The foundation has been cemented by McNack and Tuggle, and Ganzel said that’ll push other McLain wrestlers that much harder next year.
“I expect the success of the two will motivate the others in the room next year,” he said. “It will encourage them to jump on board with the hard work it takes to become a champion, and in turn we will within a few short years be in contention for both the state and dual state titles, respectfully.”
For Ganzel, though, the journey with McNack and Tuggle throughout their wrestling careers has trumped all else.
“Being a part of these two boy’s journey into manhood has been one of the most rewarding things in my life,” Ganzel said. “The adversity they have overcome and the positive character changes they have implemented would make a best-selling movie, if the whole story be told. Both Taywone and Hollis have a more than legitimate chance of becoming state champions, and I look forward to seeing how high they climb in the ladder of life after wrestling.”