HERSHEY - A year ago it was Central Dauphin's Garrett Peppelman who stood between Kennard-Dale's Chance Marsteller and District 3 and PIAA gold medals. An accomplished grappler in his own right, Peppelman twice gave Marsteller a fight last season. But Marsteller prevailed each time.
Having bumped up a weight class to 170 pounds this year, Marsteller would have a different opponent this time around, squaring off against Pittsburgh Central Catholic senior Kyle Coniker in Saturday's 170-pound PIAA Class AAA gold medal match.
Coniker, who came into the match sporting a 30-3 individual record, was the only grappler to have seriously challenged Marsteller earlier in the year. At the prestigious Powerade tournament back on Dec. 28, Marsteller defeated Coniker, 8-1.
Plus, there were the concerns about a nagging lower back injury that has been bugging Marsteller since the sectional tournament about a month ago. So, perhaps there might have been an opening for Coniker to stop Marsteller from completing an undefeated prep career and winning his fourth state gold medal.
Except Marsteller would again show everyone why he's considered the top prep grappler in the state and one of the best in the country.
The NCAA Division I Oklahoma State recruit scored two takedowns and four back points in the first period, a takedown and four back points in the second period and rode out the third period on his feet to pull out a 14-2 major decision over Coniker.
"I didn't really think about it," Marsteller said of his previous match-up with Coniker. "I know I was sick at Powerade. I knew coming into today I'd be OK. I knew coming in to today I could really open him up more."
Wearing a black singlet he finally received Monday after years of bugging Kennard-Dale athletic director Gary McChalicher for, Marsteller held up four fingers on his left hand as a referee held up his right hand to officially signal Marsteller as the winner. A packed Giant Center crowd in Hershey responded with a standing ovation.
"It was different. It's pretty heartwarming. I got some butterflies in my stomach," Marsteller said of his reaction to the standing ovation. "I might have teared up a little bit."
The reaction from fans was a bit different than some boos that came down from a select number of fans when Marsteller won district gold two weeks ago at Hersheypark Arena. Marsteller admitted Saturday he heard those boos a couple weeks ago. Boos which resulted from Marsteller finishing out the final minute of his district title match on his stomach because a stress fracture in his lower back prevented him from making any serious wrestling moves.
The lower back injury has been bothering Marsteller since sectionals, when he says he could barely walk the day after. And it returned again this weekend.
"Yeah, I was feeling it. That was my first match all week that went to a third period," Marsteller said. "Coach (Mike Balestrini) and I talked about it all week coming into it. I chose down on Friday. I just wanted to feel it out. I wasn't too happy with it on Friday. Today I looked at coach and he said 'Go on your feet, dude.' That was the plan."
Marsteller said the back injury might stick with him the rest of his career.
"I'm gonna take time off the mat about four weeks. No surgery," he said. "If I keep going it gets worse. I just gotta rest and ice."
Marsteller stood in the middle of the circle in the final period, preventing Coniker from making any moves and limiting any possible twists and turns that would cause further pain in Marsteller's back.
After walking off the mat, Marsteller was formally inducted to the short list of four-time PIAA champions by Jerry Maurey, who was the second ever four-time state champ more than 60 years ago for Waynesburg. A short time later, Solanco heavyweight Thomas Haines also became a four-time state champion, stretching the list of four-time PIAA champs to 12 total. Marsteller, though, is only the fourth to do it with an unblemished career prep record, finishing 166-0, marking the most wins among the four grapplers with a perfect scholastic record, in front of Cary Kolat's 137-0 record from 1989 to 1992. Marsteller was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler for the third year in a row.
OTHER YORK COUNTY GRAPPLERS PLACE AT STATES: Dallastown senior Rodney Sunday won his 126-pound fifth-place bout, 11-3, while Spring Grove seniors Mike Hartman (145 pounds) and Mason Bentzel (152) won their seventh-place bouts.
Sunday, an NCAA Division II Seton Hill recruit, wrestled Warren sophomore D.J. Fehlman in the 126-pound fifth-place bout. Sunday scored an early two-point takedown to take the lead but then let Fehlman up because he mistakenly thought he heard a whistle as the grapplers were on the edge of the circle. With no whistle, Fehlman got up for a one-point escape then pounced on Sunday's back for a two-point takedown.
"I was confused. I heard a whistle. I stopped. The other kid stopped. I don't even know what was going on. I don't think the ref knew what was going on," Sunday said of the mishap.
Sunday responded from there with an escape, takedown and two back points in the second period and racked up another four back points in the third period to win it, 11-3, to finish fifth at states in the 126-pound bracket for the second year in a row.
"I'm actually kind of disappointed," Sunday said. "Ever since I lost in the quarters...my goal is to win. I had a hard time bouncing back after that (losing in Friday's quarterfinals). I came back and did what I did last year. My goal was to do better than what I did (last year) but it's all right."
HARTMAN: Hartman (145), a district bronze medalist, lost his third round consolation bout, 5-0, on Saturday morning to Franklin Regional junior Josh Maruca. A D-II Millersville recruit making his first appearance in the state tournament, Hartman faced Wyoming Valley West senior Nathan Cheek in the 145-pound seventh-place bout.
Cheek led 3-0 going into the third period, where Hartman began his comeback with an escape to make it 3-1. Cheek was then whistled for his second stalling call and Hartman was awarded one point to make it 3-2. Hartman then got caught when Cheek hooked Hartman's right leg as the grapplers were on their feet. Hartman fell to the mat and wrapped his arms around Cheek's right leg to bring him down. Hartman eventually worked his way over onto Cheek's back for the two-point takedown with about 20 seconds left to pull out the 4-3 win.
BENTZEL: Bentzel (152), a district bronze medalist, also fell in the third round of consolations Saturday morning, losing 2-0 to Parkland junior Josh Ortman. Bentzel then beat Greater Latrobe sophomore Jake Shaffer, 1-0, in the 152-pound seventh place bout to finish seventh at states for the second year in a row, having done so at 145 pounds a year ago.
CLASS AA: On the Class AA side earlier Saturday, Hanover senior Ian Brown completed his undefeated season by defeating Boiling Springs junior Kyle Shoop, 7-0, to capture the 132-pound Class AA gold medal and finish the year with a perfect 39-0 individual record. Similarly, Bermudian Springs senior Tristan Sponseller won his 195-pound gold medal match, 9-1, over Cory senior Ryan Morris to finish the year with a 43-0 record.
Also in Class AA, Hanover senior Tyler Shafer (145) won by forfeit to nab seventh place in the 145-pound bracket. Bermudian Springs junior Briton Shelton (160) finished in fourth place, losing 3-0 to Milton senior Ryan Preisch in the 160-pound bronze medal match. Fairfield senior Nick Mort (170) also finished fourth, going down 3-1 in the 170-pound bronze medal match to Franklin sophomore Dakota Geer. Bermudian Springs junior Colton Dull (182) won his seventh-place bout by pinning Hamburg senior Cody Miller in 2:17.
Finally, Bermudian Springs junior Sam McCollum (220) finished in eighth place, losing 5-2 to North East junior Andrew Phelps in the 220-pound Class AA seventh-place match.
Reach John Walk at email@example.com.