2001 was a pretty eventful year with an array of memorable feats, accomplishments, matches, etc. that people talk about to this day. Jesse Sundell winning his 4th title and the Sundell-Chris Helgeson-Mario Galanakis rivalry that came close to derailing Jesse from winning 4, Josh Watts from Davenport Assumption breaking the career wins record, Cody Koenig from Underwood tying the career wins record that Watts broke, Mack Reiter vs. Dan Davila, Akeem Carter’s insane athleticism starting to reach its peak, Terry Vesey from Assumption winning state in his second year of wrestling, Trent Goodale from Osage looking like a machine, etc. After the state tournament concluded, people had a lot of new stuff to talk about due to it being so eventful. While some of these more publicized stories were widely discussed and are to this day, there were a few more subtle and obscure stories of the season as well that never seemed to be discussed as much. One of these stories in 2001 was the emergence of the McNeil brothers, Adam and Albert from Northeast Gooselake… What a year the McNeil family had that year! Think about it… Two brothers… Albert, a sophomore and Adam, a senior. Both brothers wrestled at state for the first time that year, both were in loaded 2A brackets and both won some huge matches to finish in the top 3 at state in their respective weight classes… That had to have been HUGE not only for the McNeil family, but for Northeast Gooselake wrestling as well! Northeast Gooselake has always had talented guys on their squad and at the time, they needed a couple guys to make some noise and stir some attention to some of their talented athletes… and the McNeil brothers went above and beyond in accomplishing that! Those two really opened some eyes that week.
I’ve wondered about the McNeil family’s wrestling story since I was a Senior in high school which just so happened to be 2001. Albert McNeil was a Sophomore at 2A 103 that year. His older brother, Adam McNeil placed 3rd at 2A 160 that year. He was a Senior that year, therefore he was in the same grade as me and since I was a placer at 2A 152 that year, he and I were obviously in the same weight range. This confused me because generally speaking, I know a large percentage of the wrestlers who I see taking the mat and always have… doesn’t matter the class or the weight…I try to follow as much as I can. I know their stats, their tournament finishes from years prior, etc. I am a straight-up nerd with it and for whatever reason, I don’t forget most of what I read or witness…ever. Wrestling has managed to somehow simultaneously bring the ever-present meathead in me as well as the dorky stats geek. I’ve followed multiple sports closely since I was 5 years old or so and usually knew my stuff. With that said, when I read the final placing round results and upcoming finals matches after closing out my own HS wrestling career at Vets that week, I was boggled as to how on Earth I had never heard of the two McNeil brothers before..I mean, I was hearing of all kinds of guys who had decent records and after looking back, I found that they were just destroyed by McNeil brothers. It was also odd, considering if there were two weight ranges I studied hard and went through with a fine-tooth comb that year, it was 2A 103 (Albert) and 2A 160 (Adam). Reason being, my brother Justin was a light 112 and the returning runner-up at 2A 103 at the time who ended up placing 2nd that year just like Albert. We kept our eye on 103 all year just in case he decided to cut down and even being one weight apart, they were wrestling some of the same competition. Albert and Justin were at the same weight (2A 103) the year before and likely had many common opponents. Also, I was a heavy 152 lber as a Senior who considered bumping up to 160 that entire year, so I studied that weight heavily as well. I wrestled a lot of 160 lb. guys… Adam and I had several common opponents as well. Add on to that the fact that Mepo wrestled NE Gooselake off and on at districts quite a bit in those days, so I was always very familiar with that team in general. It confuses me to this day how a couple of hammers and potential future opponents like them zipped past my radar until that point. It was like being in school and turning in a History test that you studied hard for and after finishing it, thinking that you aced it easily…and then finding out later that you missed two points because you accidentally skipped two questions that were about something you should have known without even studying… Needless to say, I was aware of them from that point on.
The first time I saw Albert McNeil wrestle was in his state finals match at 2A 103 in 2001 vs. Dusty Finer from Emmetsburg. I was front row for it, for one of my buddies was working security at Vets Auditorium that year and he hooked me up with a close spot to watch the finals, so I could have a mat side view when my brother Justin wrestled in his finals match vs. Jacob Naig from Emmetsburg, which was to take place immediately following Albert’s finals match. I happened to be talking to a guy named Jay Simon from West Liberty who placed 3rd at 2A 145 that year at the same exact time that I flagged down my security guard buddy, so Jay was also allowed to watch the finals where I was, so that’s who I watched the state finals with that year until it was time for us to receive our own awards and stand on the podium. We talked a lot of wrestling. When Albert was wresting, I remember saying something along the lines of this to Jay, “man, keep me talking and thinking about other things other than this upcoming match with my brother and Naig because I think I may pass out from nerves.” He laughed and agreed to accept this task and one of the first topics we discussed was the McNeil brothers. Simon knew all about both Albert and Adam.. Quite possibly from the rivalry Albert had with Jay’s teammate, Robbie McIntire. It was Jay who filled me in on how good of a season Adam and Albert had that year. As Albert wrestled, Jay told me about a couple matches that he had prior to the finals in which he looked tough. Albert ultimately fell short to Finer in the finals, but he certainly made a statement in that tourney and for what it’s worth, there was definitely some buzz going around about he had a breakout tournament.
I don’t know if the story of both McNeil brothers having their breakout seasons/tournaments at state in 2001 was ever specifically written about in the QC Times or Dubuque Telegraph Herald or not, but take my word for it, it was impressive.
Albert continued to be a hammer and it was fun to follow from that point on! To this day, Albert holds 4 NE Gooselake wrestling records (career wins, near falls season and career and pins). It is becoming more and more rare for someone in Albert’s age group to remain as a record holder at ANY high school in Iowa because today, high school wrestlers are flourished with approximately 5468 more matches than we wrestled back then…
Below is Albert’s 2001 state finals match. He had several matches that did him more justice than this match, for the outcome did not go his way, but keep in mind that he at least made it that far, which is more than the overwhelming majority of former HS wrestlers can say and also keep in mind that he beat a couple of the best guys at his weight that year (Dane Reiter from Hudson, Pete Stroh from Waterloo Columbus and Robbie McIntire from West Liberty) to make it there…. Stroh and McIntire fought back to place that year after losing to McNeil and all 3 placed at state 3 or more times in their HS careers… So Albert was VERY battle-tested coming into that finals match!
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
Northeast High School Goose Lake, Dana College
What year did you graduate?
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
My brother Adam came home with a flyer for the Dewitt tournament when I was in 1st grade and that was how I got started. Later in elementary, I played basketball also and eventually realized that there were only 10 guys on the team and I was second string and the only thing in basketball I was good at was fouling… therefore I decided wrestling was probably my sport.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My brother Adam McNeil got 3rd and wrestled at Coe College. My son Archie is 4 and he likes to wrestle. He is a tough little boy, but youth clubs here don’t start till 5, so one more year! My daughter Zooey likes to wrestle her dad and brother, but prefers to be a ballerina.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I wasn’t great starting out I’d get 2nd or 3rd at local tournaments, but if I wrestled in Illinois they grouped guys by age. I was younger for my grade so I won more tournaments there. I did AAU state one year… I think 6th grade. I got 3rd out of 3 guys at districts, so I qualified for state without winning a match. My rivals would be the same reason I got 3rd… seemed like every tournament it was me, Jace Kuhlman and Keenan Meinecke in a bracket together and they always beat me until junior high. Both were from Maquoketa. I never lost to anyone from Maquoketa again in high school.
What was your record in HS?
How did you place at state every year?
2nd sophomore and 5th senior
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
Well first would say I almost quit wrestling my freshman year and Coach Lueders rode me about that since he knew I was better than I considered myself to be. I was not mentally tough yet and once I realized he was trying to help me, we got along great from that point. At the end of freshman year I broke my hand and made sure to get a splint and not a cast so I could still wrestle at sectionals.
I cut a lot of weight my sophomore and junior year, it turned out good one year and not so great the next. I was in the best shape of my life on the amount of extra running I had to do. Also the morning headed to state my sophomore year I was 3 pounds overweight. I put sweats on and it took 20 minutes of running to even start sweating at that point. The school suburban was blasting heat full blast for the next 3 hour drive and I sat in middle-front seat between 2 coaches rocking back and forth chewing bubble gum spitting into a bottle. I managed to fill a 20 oz bottle. We got to Vets and I was right on weight and I believe coach Meyermann said he lost 10 pounds just driving. Then the whole tournament I couldn’t even drink water after my matches I’d put sweats right back on and start running to make weight for the next day. They would bring me up to watch my brother and he had 3 or 4 overtime matches which made me nervous, but helped with sweating to lose weight. After that I was on weight for the next day.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
Well, I was in the great shape, so there was just always enough gas in the tank to go longer and out work your opponent. If anything described me best, I’d say I was like a spider monkey. I tended to be taller, so I was big leg rider and just mobbed a guy by going legs turns to cradle or my favorite: The double chicken wing opened up to finish.
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
Never really had any back and forth. Only one really is Robbie McIntire, for he beat me 3 times. However, I won when it mattered the absolute most in the state semifinals my Sophomore season. The stakes were generally high with he and I though. One of of those losses to him came my junior year to end my season. My senior year I lost to Ted Stopulus by one point after I just lost to Earl Robinson by a point or two so my head wasn’t in it. Because when it came to Sectionals I pinned him in 40 seconds to make up for a dumb loss.
Who was your most influential coach?
I really only had one coach JD Lueders he was junior high and high school coach.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
Northeast wasn’t great when my brother was a freshman. I’m not sure they won any duels. By my senior year we were 11-1. My sophomore year with just Adam and I at state, we placed 19th as a team which is the highest the school ever placed at state. Dana College won the National championship the year after I joined the Coast Guard.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
Adam McNeil, my brother. I mean, what younger brother doesn’t want to be like his older brother. Also I always wanted to be a state champ like coach Lueders.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
This is a tough one, but since I grew up in Preston, some close-by names would be Eric Juergens or Dan Knight. Knight wrestled with my coach and was coaching at Mt. Saint Claire at the time so we went to a couple of his camps. Other one would be a guy I wrestled at my first ever freestyle tournament in 8th grade. It was me and one other guy. This kid said he hadn’t done much freestyle. Well, I got into a roll situation with him and he got the tech-fall in maybe 30 seconds or so. I never did freestyle again after that, but that inexperienced freestyle wrestler turned out to be Mack Reiter, so I don’t feel as bad about now. He is one of the best. Also saw what he did to my buddy Craig Trampe at the UNO Open. He made him look silly and Craig was a 2 time Nebraska state champ in his own right.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
I feel like everyone says it but I got to say Spencer Lee.
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
Well in the wrestling room coach had a Queen CD that pretty much played on repeat. But of course I was a white farm boy from Iowa who listened to rap like; Dr. Dre, Ja Rule, 50 cent, Nelly.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
My junior year I lost at districts to Robbie McIntire. It was a close match, but then he lost to Andre Avila in the finals who went on to win it all that year, so my year was over. I took my loss real well the next night on Sunday for I already weighed 16 pounds more than I did at weigh-ins!
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change much. Don’t get me wrong, there are some matches where I think if I would have just done this maybe I would have won. The only thing that I may change would be wrestling all 4 years at a different college.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
Most definitely it was beating Robbie McIntyre 10-5 in the semi-finals to make the state finals. And anyone who has ever been in the grand march knows that is a cool feeling when the entire stadium is standing clapping. It is definitely better when you’re about to wrestle then when you’re not, though.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
Justin Peterson, Andre Avila, Robbie McIntyre, Earl Robinson, Mark Jensen, I can say it’s hard to see Robert Struthers I pinned and Adam Kurimski I beat 10-2 both win a state title the next year.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
Just seasonal until I got to college and found out the first week that they weren’t joking about guys getting driven 10 miles in country and being told to run back.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
I’ve not been in Iowa much in last 17 years. I will say from the years I coached in Seattle, those kids in WA couldn’t hang with the eastern Iowa competition. With a lot of new weight measures in place they probably aren’t as hungry and angry all the time as we were.
Did you wrestle after high school?
I wrestled 2 years at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska before I quit school and joined the Coast Guard.
What other sports did you play?
I played football, and did cross country my sophomore year instead of football.
What are your favorite sports teams?
Anything Iowa Hawkeyes and Buffalo Bills.
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
I like to do woodworking or build things like a ball pit for kids. My job ensures I’m near water which is good because I’m a fan of the beach. I work on my Chevelle. I snowboard with the 20 year olds from work. And like any former athlete, I like to watch sports and yell at the tv about how I could do it better than them, of course.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
I coached for a few years in Seattle before I had kids. It was good to hear from parents thanks for your influence on my son that makes you feel good. One of my former wrestlers is actually now a pilot in the Coast Guard.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
It was one of the best things in my life. It teaches you the work ethic that I use in my work to this day. When I went to boot camp, I thought the physical part was a joke after just getting out of college wrestling. The other part is Coast Guard is very mental, but that mental toughness I learned my freshman year from Coach Lueders ensures that I had no problem with that and ended up being top grad in boot camp. I’m sure any wrestler can tell you that we don’t do it for a participation ribbon… we do it to win, it’s just that mind set you learn from wrestling that helps so much.
What do you do now?
I joined the Coast Guard in 2005 I’m still active duty. I’m a Damage Controlman Chief Petty officer E7.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
At this point just wrestle with my kids.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Never give up what you think you can achieve because it is probably lower than what you can actually do… You just need to push and do that little extra and it will add up. Some do the minimum just to get by, but you need to be the one doing all the extra stuff that no one else is doing because that determines the outcome between winning and losing sometimes.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
I did one in Washington after my daughter was born. I was the only adult, so one of my high school kids wrestled me so I could feel like I earned my medal. There is a tournament in November down in Pennsylvania that I want to go to just to see for myself if Pennsylvania is THAT tough. I want to see if I still got it. I just hope the corona doesn’t get it canceled.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc?
I think I mentioned about everything, but thanks to my brother Adam all the years beating on me because it toughened me up. And thanks to Coach Lueders for pushing me and getting me to where I was. Also my parents were a huge support, for they never missed a match of mine in junior high or high school. And dragging my mom every Saturday somewhere when I was in 4th through 8th grade needs to be acknowledged… I understand that sitting there all day as a spectator can be boring, so to my mom, big thanks for letting me go all over place and never complaining!
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
Maybe interesting… After growing up in same house in Iowa for 18 years. I lived in Nebraska, Minnesota, Hawaii, Washington, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Massachusetts, England and now New York.