If you’re a college wrestling fan, there’s no better place to live than Pennsylvania.
That point was driven home in a very big way this past weekend.
It started Friday night, when a Lock Haven University team stacked with former District 3 standouts earned the program’s most important victory in a dozen years.
The Bald Eagles upset Big Ten power Rutgers, 22-16, in front of a raucous packed house of nearly 2,400 fans at Lock Haven’s Thomas Fieldhouse. The Scarlet Knights came into the meet ranked No. 12 in NCAA Division I by Intermat. Lock Haven, meanwhile, hadn’t beaten a ranked foe in a dozen years.
That losing streak ended in dramatic fashion when former Solanco High School star Thomas Haines decked his Rutgers foe in just 43 seconds at 285 pounds, sealing one of the biggest wins in Bald Eagles history and sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
Haines is a familiar name to local wrestling fans after winning four PIAA state championships for the nearby Lancaster County school.
Marsteller keeps rolling: Another four-time PIAA champ who has landed at Lock Haven is an even more familiar name to York County wrestling fans.
Kennard-Dale grad Chance Marsteller also earned a crucial victory for the Eagles vs. Rutgers, capturing an 11-3 major decision at 165 pounds.
Haines and Marsteller took similar routes to the small central Pennsylvania university. Both originally gave verbal commitments to Penn State and its legendary head coach, Cael Sanderson, before eventually changing their minds and landing at different powerhouse wrestling schools — Haines at Ohio State and Marsteller at Oklahoma State.
Later, each eventually transferred to Lock Haven, where both are enjoying great success on the mat while helping to resurrect Scott Moore’s Bald Eagles program. Haines is 5-2 this season, while Marsteller has soared to a 12-0 mark that has him ranked No. 8 in the nation at 165 pounds, according to Intermat. Haines is ranked No. 13 at 285.
Marsteller, of course, has survived some well-publicized, self-inflicted, off-the-mat issues along the way, but he seems to have been reborn this season at Lock Haven and has regained the form that once made him into the nation’s top high school wrestling recruit.
District 3 influence: In the big win over Rutgers, the Eagles also got victories from three other former District 3 wrestlers: Boiling Springs grad Kyle Shoop at 141, Solanco grad Ronnie Perry at 149 and East Pennsboro’s Alex Klucker at 157. Perry (6-1) is also ranked No. 13 in the nation by Intermat. Shoop is 9-3 and Klucker is 10-2.
Another former York-Adams League wrestler, Tristan Sponseller from Bermudian Springs, is Lock Haven’s starter at 197. He suffered a 6-4 loss vs. Rutgers and stands at 2-6 on the season.
The Rutgers victory helped Lock Haven surge into Intermat’s dual-meet national top 25 at No. 18. It's Lock Haven's first national team ranking in 15 years.
PSU nips Lehigh in thriller: The team ranked No. 1 in those same rankings, of course, is Penn State, which has claimed six of the last seven national championships under Sanderson.
Just two days after Lock Haven’s big win over Rutgers, the Nittany Lions earned an equally pulsating triumph on Sunday over Pennsylvania rival Lehigh, 23-19, which is ranked No. 5 in the nation.
The Lions climbed out of 15-0 hole to beat the Mountain Hawks despite missing two injured starters, including Vincenzo Joseph, who is ranked No. 1 in the nation at 165.
Like Lock Haven’s win over Rutgers, the PSU-Lehigh showdown came down to the 285-pound match, where PSU’s Nick Nevills, ranked No. 3, edged 12th-ranked Jordan Wood, 2-0.
Also like the Lock Haven-Rutgers match, the PSU-Lehigh contest was held in front of boisterous standing-room-only crowd of nearly 10,000 at Allentown’s PPL Center.
The 106th meeting between the longtime in-state rivals was a true masterpiece. The dual featured nine wrestlers ranked in InterMat's top 10 and a number of close outcomes.
It also marked the 35th straight dual victory for the Nittany Lions — a school record.
A rare opportunity: So, in less than a 48-hour span, at locations just 150 miles apart, Pennsylvania college wrestling fans had the opportunity to take in two instant classics featuring powerhouse teams and multiple nationally-ranked wrestlers, each held in front of wild, overflow crowds.
There were doubtless quite a few fans at both matches from right here in York County.
They witnessed college wrestling at its very best.
And just think, it’s only early December.
It makes you wonder what the months ahead may have in store for the fans in this wrestling-mad state.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.