Three Long Cane wrestlers gear up for European competition

Published 8:05 am Saturday, March 11, 2023

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The Long Cane/Troup wrestling program has produced a number of talented and hungry athletes in recent years. Three of those wrestlers — Cruz Hezel, Javen Russo and Walker Woodard got a send off at Troup High last week as they prepare to head to Europe for two weeks to learn more about who they are as wrestlers and finetune their skills.

“It’s going to be tough,” Russo said. “It is double-elimination with one day being Greco and one day being freestyle. The competition is really, really good.”

The trio will be bouncing around Europe learning about wrestling from an entirely new viewpoint. While Americans approach wrestling from one direction, the Europeans come at it from another.

“They are really good at greco over and people say it is the hardest to learn,” Woodard said. 

All three boys are looking to improve with Greco style wrestling, which they do not have as much experience with as their European counterparts. 

Among the trio is a mixture of nervousness and excitement. The three middle schoolers will not be accompanied by a parent or guardian and for two of them — Russo and Hezel — this will be the first time they have experienced anything like this.

“I’m really excited to meet new people and work with some elite level coaches,” Hezel said. 

“I really want to work on my greco and freestyle wrestling,” Russo said. “I’m nervous, but I’m excited about going to Europe.”

Hezel has been to national competitions but is looking forward to his first international competition. 

The competition will be fierce as well as a plethora of elite wrestlers will take part in the competition. 

“The competition is tough,” Woodard said. “It is a lot of training with mostly elite wrestlers.”

The three wrestlers will be representing the USA team in freestyle and Greco. They will train for two weeks before taking part in the Tallinn Open in Estonia. They trio have big expectations for what they can accomplish at the competition.

“I’m hoping to place in the top five,” Hezel said. “I think my technique and how I’ve been wrestling this last year will get me into the top five.”

“I want to place but since this is my first time over there, I want to have fun too.” 

For Woodard, this is his second trip to Estonia to take part in this competition and he feels more confident going into his second trip overseas. 

“My goal is to win after placing last time,” Woodard said. “I placed third and fifth, but I have gotten better since then.”

Woodward has let the other guys know just how intense the training is going to be over there. The three guys will be eating, sleeping and breathing wrestling over their two weeks in Europe. 

“It’s six to seven hours a day of training,” Woodard said. “It is exhausting.”

This is not some competition where you can put a pile of money down and head out, it is only for the wrestlers who show some real potential. It is a rigorous selection process that saw these three young wrestlers make the cut. It goes beyond stats as the wrestlers’ character is put under intense scrutiny to see if they meet the qualifications.

As the trio puts in the final bit of preparation before departing, the day draws nearer to when they will begin their European adventure. All three are hoping to return even more polished than ever as they continue their wrestling careers.