New wrestling coach learns fast for Mount Pleasant

Written by Ken Wunderley on .

Add this to the oddity list: The new wrestling coach at Mount Pleasant High School is an alumnus, but he was never a member of the school's usually strong wrestling team.

"I played football. I was an all-conference football player," said Mike Long, a 1999 graduate. "I didn't get interested in wrestling until after I graduated from college.

"I began working at Connellsville and they needed help coaching the wrestling team at their East Junior High. I coached two years then decided to get into officiating. I officiated the past two years."

Long switched gears when he heard B.J. Mikeska had stepped down after three years as Mount Pleasant's head coach.

"A friend of a friend told me about the coaching opening," Long said. "I thought it would be great to coach at my alma mater."

Long called on a couple former wrestlers from Connellsville to complete his coaching staff.

"Jonathon Knepper and Ashtin Primus are my assistant coaches," Long said. "Ashtin wrestled at the University of Missouri, then transferred to Notre Dame College in Ohio and placed second in the country in the NAIA tournament [last March]. He took a semester off and will return in January for his final semester."

Long's head coaching debut began with an impressive appearance at Hampton's Dawg Duals. Mount Pleasant won four of six matches in the two-day tournament, with both losses coming to Class AAA teams.

Mount Pleasant recorded victories against Thomas Jefferson, 51-27, Penn Hills, 63-6, Highlands, 48-18, and Moon, 53-6. Three of the four are Class AAA teams. The Vikings losses were to Hampton, 73-3, and West Allegheny, 38-34.

Four nights later, Mount Pleasant opened its Class AA Section 2B schedule with a 42-25 loss to perennial power Derry Area. The Vikings bounced back with a 53-24 rout of Charleroi Wednesday.

"The difference [against Derry] was that we forfeited three weight classes and they had a full lineup," Long said. "I don't know if we could have won if we had a full lineup, but it would have been much closer."

Mount Pleasant attended the Penn Cambria Tournament last weekend and placed fifth in the 19-team field.

"I was very pleased with our performance, especially since we were entered in only 10 of the 14 weight classes," Long said. "Nine of our 10 entries placed and the other won two matches, so everybody wrestled in at least four matches.

"I'm very pleased with a fifth-place finish, considering the teams that finished ahead of us had full lineups."

Five of Mount Pleasant's place-winners finished among the top four in their weight classes. The top finisher was Jonah Long, a 220-pound freshman who placed second. Long (10-2) was pinned in the title match by Jacob Craig of Berlin Brothersvalley.

"We refer to Jonah as a man-child," Mike Long said. "He looks like a man but is only 15. He weights only 191, but wanted to wrestle up in the 220-pound weight class."

Jonah Long and his brother, Bobby, are not related to coach Long. Bobby Long (13-1), a junior, placed third at 145 pounds. His only loss of the season was to Conemaugh Township's Tanner Cahill, the tournament runner-up.

Senior Ashton Cassa, junior Eli Holt and senior Cole Murtha were also top-four finishers. Cassa (11-3) placed third at 182. Holt (8-5) was fourth at 170. Murtha (8-5) finished fourth at 160.

Also placing for Mount Pleasant were junior Jack Keslar (7-5), sixth at 285; junior Justin Overly (9-3), seventh at 182; freshman Ethan Charlesworth (9-4), seventh at 138; and Austin Mears (8-5), eighth at 145.

Despite their season-opening loss, the Vikings still have a legitimate shot of earning a berth in the WPIAL team tournament.