Long Cane wrestling finishes third in the state

Published 12:35 pm Thursday, February 1, 2024

The Long Cane wrestling program enjoyed another successful season in 2023-24 even if they did not reach the heights the team set in the season prior. The Cougars finished third in state — a season after winning the first state championship in program history — which left the team on a bit of a sour note to end the duals season.

“Walking away from it, it left us a lot to build on,” Long Cane head coach Russell Yeatman said. “We went there to get first place and we were disappointed that we didn’t get it, but it still gives us a lot to build on.

“They didn’t really want the medals because they weren’t first place because that’s the standard they’ve set.”

It was truly not where anybody on the team envisioned themselves finishing heading into the state tournament.

“It was sad and painful, but we learned a lot,” captain Aaron Ellison said. “We expected to do better.”

This belief did not come from a place of arrogance, but one of self-belief. Most of the leaders and experienced wrestlers had been a part of the state championship-winning team in 2022-23 and knew the team was capable of getting back to that level this season.

“It was an amazing experience being a part of that team,” captain Eian Ledford said. “We felt like we had what it takes to win state this year too.”

It’s a youth-filled team at Long Cane this season. On a team of over 30 wrestlers, only six of them are eighth graders. This means the team will be returning the vast majority of the team, including three of the captains from this year’s team which will allow the team to really learn from their experience at state this season.

“The majority of our team is seventh graders and we only had three eighth graders in the starting lineup,” Yeatman said. “They are going to learn a lot from this and hopefully come back even stronger next year.”

One of the chief reasons that Long Cane has risen to the top is the cohesive bond between the youth wrestling program, the middle school program and the high school program. The Cougars team trains day in and day out at Troup High with some of the best wrestlers at that level in the state which helps the young wrestlers adjust when they get to the high school level.

“We practice at the high school, we work with the high schooler every day,” Yeatman said. “It starts with coach (Drew) Garner at the high school level and it works its way down. If you don’t meet the standards you aren’t going to wrestle, it’s that simple.”

All four captains —- Ellison, Ledford, Hank Muhr and Javen Russo—— cited Troup High head wrestling coach Drew Garner as someone who had a monumental impact on their young wrestling careers.

The leadership the captains displayed this season was instrumental in the success they were able to have.

“Their leadership always kept us together during trying times,” Yeatman said. “Whether it was injuries or people not being able to make it to practice or anything, these guys were able to keep everybody together.” 

For Yeatman, this season has been a homecoming of sorts. Prior to this season he worked with the Gardner Newman wrestling program but jumped at the chance to be the head coach at Long Cane as a former Troup High wrestler.

“I actually wrestled for coach Garner’s brother Craig back in the day,” Yeatman said with a smile and a chuckle. 

While the duals season has reached its conclusion, the wrestling season as a whole keeps on rolling along. The team still has traditional wrestling tournaments and the individual state tournament to prepare for.

Despite still having various competitions this season, the ones that are coming back next season are already eyeing a big finish to their middle school careers. 

“We want to come back next year and win state and leave here as two-time state champions,” captain Hank Muhr said. 

This year’s team consists of Charley Elder – 6th, Jace Adams – 6th, Hunter Vaillant – 6th, Ezra Roper – 6th, Miles Maxwell – 6th, Landen Arrington – 7th, Braiden Johnson – 6th, Levi Allison – 6th, Javen Russo – 7th, Brantley Bowen – 6th, Braylon Smith – 7th, Eli Damron – 7th, Sophia Pittman 7th, Christian Swanson 6th, Emerson Hill – 8th, Noah Flores – 6th, Tate Schmitt – 6th, Aaron Ellison – 8th, Anthony Swanson – 8th, Hank Muhr – 7th, Marcus Sims – 6th, Eian Ledford – 7th, Hayden Bradfield – 8th, Michael Floyd – 7th, Kendrez Boykin – 7th, Aiden Williams – 7th, Trinity Cheeks – 8th, Demonta Thompson – 7th, and Jacob Rice – 8th.