Central York wrestler Eli Long caps postseason with national podium finish

The junior added to his sectional and district titles and state medal with the seventh-place showing.

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

Eli Long had a postseason to remember on the high school wrestling mat. 

The Central York junior, after helping his team reach the district quarterfinals, won sectional and district championships as an individual. He then medaled at the PIAA Class 3A championships with an eighth-place finish in his weight class.

Over the weekend, he added national All-American honors to the list of accolades.

PIAA District III, Class 3-A Wrestling Championships at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Long placed seventh among high school juniors in the 138-pound class at the NHSCA national championships in Virginia Beach, held last Friday through Sunday. In the three-day event, he went 6-2 and reached the championship quarterfinals in a bracket of 128 competitors. It was the culmination of a brilliant 12 months for Long, who spent innumerable hours on the mat in preparation for the season.

“I think he just started to see some success happening, and now I truly think he’s just having fun again with the sport. He’s doing it for himself and he’s reaping the rewards,” said Central York head coach Eric Albright, who was on hand in Virginia Beach. 

“I don’t think, before the season, there was one person aside from probably us coaches that believed he was capable of winning a district title, which he did. He won his first sectional title, his first district title, and then a state medal, and then placed at high school nationals, which is a feat in itself.”

The entire NHSCA tournament — which featured brackets in 14 weight classes for all four high school grades, plus high school girls and middle school boys — featured over 5,200 wrestlers from all 50 states. Wrestling was contested on 59 mats at the Virginia Beach Sports Center.

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Long’s busy month of March began with his state podium finish at the Giant Center in Hershey. The following weekend, he was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with family to watch the NCAA Championships, won by Penn State. He returned to York before leaving for Virginia Beach last Thursday.

He was joined on this trip by fellow Central York juniors Carter Davis and Wyatt Dillon, as well as Panthers sophomore Harris Keares and York Suburban juniors Justin and Tyler Adams. Last year, Long was accompanied only by Davis and Tyler Adams, but with a larger group and each wrestler coming off a successful season, nobody put too much pressure on themselves.

“This is always one of my favorite tournaments of the year,” Long said. “I’ve done it the past two years, and this year I knew a lot more of my friends were going down, so I knew it was gonna be some fun.”

Central York’s Elias Long, front, wrestles Gettysburg’s Gabriel Pecaitis in the 139-pound weight class during PIAA District III, Class 3-A Wrestling Championships at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Long would win by major decision 11-1. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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Long won his first three matches by pin, then advanced to the championship quarterfinals with a major-decision victory. He lost by 7-1 decision in that round, sending him into the blood round against Gavin Pope, who won Georgia’s state championship in the 144-pound class.

Late in the match, Long earned a two-point takedown to earn a 5-3 advantage on the scoreboard. The tournament allowed coaches to challenge a call for $50 — lose the challenge, lose the money — and Pope’s coaches smacked a $50 bill on the table. After a 10-minute review, the takedown was overturned. The grapplers went to overtime, then double-overtime, where Long ultimately prevailed for a 6-3 win.

“I wasn’t stressed,” Long said of waiting out the review. “Even if I lost the challenge, I knew that I was still gonna win. My coaches kept telling me about every scenario that could have come out of it, and I was just standing there nodding my head, but in my head, I wasn’t really worried about it.”

Long split his final two matches, losing by 4-1 decision to Washington’s Marcos Torrez before pinning New York’s Amir Avazov to take seventh place.

Dillon and Davis, both competing in the 145-pound class, went 1-1 Friday and won three consolation bouts Saturday to finish 4-2. Tyler Adams advanced to the round of 16 at 126 pounds before losing twice, while Justin Adams (113) went 2-2 after losing in the first round. Keares went 1-2 in the sophomore tournament at 106 pounds. Red Lion’s Mason Harvey, a sophomore in the 120-pound class, also opened with three wins before finishing 4-2.

Long’s seventh-place finish allowed him to close the weekend on a high note, and his performance was a fitting end to a transformative year. After missing states in 2022, Albright estimates Long wrestled about 140 times between March and November, traveling as far as Florida and North Dakota to compete. The results speak for themselves.

Central York’s Elias Long celebrates a win over Gettysburg’s Gabriel Pecaitis (not pictured) in the 139-pound weight class during PIAA District III, Class 3-A Wrestling Championships at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Long would win by major decision 11-1. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“It feels really good,” Long said, “because in the moment, you’re thinking, ‘What if this is for nothing? What if I’m just wasting my time?’ I always think about how much time and money my parents spend for me to go to these places, and all I want to do is just pay it back to them by not letting it go to waste.

“Having those results in my season helped a lot. I felt so much better wrestling. I can say confidently that it definitely paid off, wrestling all those matches last summer.”

This offseason won’t involve quite as much barnstorming, but Long and his teammates remain laser-focused on chasing championships. Central York’s trio of rising seniors — as well as current senior Macon Myers, who placed third at states — has helped transform the Panthers’ wrestling program. And those who come next will see what’s possible if they’re willing to dedicate themselves the way Long has.

“He’s an example of what the younger kids in our program can follow,” Albright said. “It’s been cool to see.”