Chuck Hemingway didnt need to push his top wrestlers much.
That didnt stop the Loris first-year head coach from prodding Taquan Long. Hemingway frequently wore the state championship ring he won while wrestling for the Lions in 2000, and a few weeks before this years state finals, he let Long slip it on his finger.
Is this what you want? Hemingway asked.
Long answered in the affirmative, and sure enough, hes about to have his own championship ring.
The Sun News Toast of the Coast Wrestler of the Year won the Class AA/A state title at 160 pounds after finishing his junior season 36-1. He was an All-Region VIII-AA selection and was generally recognized as one of the best in the weight class throughout the season.
His win completed a notable bounce-back story, as this time last year, Long was suffering through a mentally and physically painful stretch. First, after transferring from North Myrtle Beach, he was able to qualify for and then win the Class AA Lower State title. However, he failed to place at state despite being one of the favorites.
A few short weeks later, it got worse when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during spring football practice. The injury sidelined him for the entire football season.
But it also propelled him to something bigger on the mat.
It was tough, Long said. I just put everything behind me. I was starting new. I wanted to make myself better. I wanted to make my junior year, make everything right.
Said Hemingway: We stayed encouraging with him. He was really down. He was really upset he couldnt play football. He made the best of it. He had a positive attitude throughout the entire process.
Weeks after the start of the season, Long was back to his old form. Hemingway said he was dominating his opponents, and soon after the coach new his wrestler was going to be a force come February and March.
The ACL tear was no longer preventing Long from doing what he was capable of.
I know the work that he put in. I knew the type of athlete that he was, and that he could, Hemingway said. I was skeptical because of the injury. But halfway through the season, he elevated his wrestling. I knew he could win.
Long again won the Lower State title, and then swept through the state finals to win that championship. In the process, he defeated Columbias Louis Taylor, the only wrestler ranked ahead of Long in the pre-tournament state rankings at 160 pounds.
Because of it, when Hemingway shows off his jewelry for motivational purposes, Long will be able to counter with some of his own.
He walks around and has something to show for it, Long said. I didnt want to go through my high school and not have anything sports-wise. That ring, thats the perfect thing to show for it.
Contact IAN GUERIN at firstname.lastname@example.org.