BERRYVILLE — When asked why wrestling appeals to him, Clarke County’s Cannon Long had a short answer on Tuesday afternoon in the hallway outside the Eagles’ wrestling room.
“Winning,” Long said. “But it’s not easy.”
Thanks in large part to his desire to put himself up against tough competition throughout the year, it does happen a lot though when he’s in an Eagles singlet.
After leading Clarke County in wins and placing third in Class 2 at 106 pounds as a freshman, Long is looking to make even more noise as a 132-pound sophomore at the Class 2 state tournament at the Salem Civic Center. On Wednesday, the Virginia High School League announced it was moving the Class 2 state tournament from Friday to Monday due to severe weather in the forecast.
The Region 2B champion, Long (11-3 record) will be involved in an eight-man 132-pound bracket in which none of the wrestlers competed in a Class 2 state championship match last year. Long, Glenvar’s Jake Cline (third at 120 pounds) and Owen Smith of Patrick County (fourth at 132 pounds), a possible semifinal opponent, are the top returning Class 2 placers.
Long’s losses this year have not come against anyone that he’ll see in the state tournament today. (Two of them came against wrestlers from larger Class 3 schools, and one came against a private school.) There’s no clear favorite and there’s a lot of unknowns, but Long does know what he wants from today, and beyond.
“I’m trying to get three state titles in my career,” said Long after the Region 2B tournament in Strasburg on Feb. 6.
Long — who at 5 feet, 6 inches is four inches taller than he was as a freshman — first began wrestling in third grade. About a year later he joined the 84 Athletes wrestling club in Stephens City. 84 Athletes travels up and down the East Coast to take on top competition, and Clarke County coach Jon VanSice said the work that Long puts in with them throughout the entire year shows.
“He’s always going to tournaments,” VanSice said. “He does what he has to do to find competition, and he just keeps building layers of experience.”
Because of COVID-19, tournaments were hard to find throughout most of 2020. But Long said he competed in four or five, and the one in Myrtle Beach, S.C., that stood out the most didn’t feature much of his favorite part of wrestling.
“It was pretty tough, but fun,” Long said. “I didn’t do very good. I won maybe three matches out of 10.”
All that mattered was finding competition that made him better. 84 Athletes gives him that chance to do so on a regular basis, because Keagan Judd is there.
Judd — whose father Brad helped start 84 Athletes — became the first freshman in Sherando’s 27-year history to win a wrestling state title in 2020, when he won the Class 4 113-pound title. (The Warriors were planning on having Judd wrestle at 132 or 138 this year before Frederick County decided in January to postpone all interscholastic competition until March 1.)
“I use to be mediocre wrestler, a little below mediocre, and now I’m pretty good because of [Keagan],” Long said.
Long was far from mediocre as a freshman. Long recorded a record of 41-12 with 16 pins, and he was the only Eagle to place at the Class 2 state tournament. After losing in the semifinals of last year’s 16-man bracket, VanSice was impressed with how Long responded to take third, winning 9-3 and 10-4 decisions in the consolation bracket.
“He was our most outstanding wrestler [for the season],” VanSice said. “[At the state tournament], he lost that semifinal match, then he really turned it up from there. He wanted that third place. He really got after it.”
VanSice has continued to be impressed with how Long has wrestled under much different circumstances from last year. Long’s four-inch growth spurt over the summer has him in the fifth-lightest of the 14 weight classes after wrestling in the lightest last year.
“Some of these guys who are strong at 106, they go up and no longer have that success,” VanSice said. “They’re one-year wonders at 106, and sometimes, you never hear from them again. So this is a challenging year for him, for sure.”
Long — who stopped playing football this year so he could focus on wrestling — said his constant wrestling helped him adjust to his growth spurt over the summer as it was taking place. And while it’s a lot different wrestling at 132 compared to 106, he’s stayed successful by taking advantage of his new body.
“I use moves that I didn’t usually use last year,” Long said. “Cradles are a lot easier to do, because my arms have gotten longer.”
Long didn’t get many matches in during the regular season, because the Virginia High School League limited schools to dual matches and no tournaments.
But he pulled out a particular arm throw that he doesn’t use often against a wrestler from a powerful Riverheads program for a five-point move that brought him from a 5-2 deficit to a 7-5 lead in the third period on Jan. 19. VanSice said Long also had a comeback win in the third period against a larger wrestler in Stonewall Jackson’s Jesse Lemon (third in Region 2B at 138 pounds) in an exhibition match on Jan. 27.
“He hangs around and hangs around and can hit some late moves to pull matches out,” VanSice said. “He’s got things in his bag of tricks that he can use when he needs to.”
Long’s ready to do whatever it takes on Monday.
“I think I’ve wrestled pretty good this season,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.”