In a remarkable high school wrestling career, you could argue that Central York senior Dylan Chatterton saved his best performance for last.
Chatterton's final state wrestling tournament got off to about as rough a start as possible on Thursday. After scoring the first points of his preliminary bout against Dieruff's Ronald Nguyen, the blood started flowing from Chatterton's nose. A few blood stoppages to plug it couldn't help matters, so after the first period, Chatterton had his face wrapped, completely covering his nose. Ultimately, looking more like a comic book villain than a wrestler, Chatterton was defeated, 4-3 and sent to the consolation bracket.
That's when desperation sank in and something truly improbable took place. Chatterton earned a pin his first consolation bout on Thursday to stay alive into Friday. That was just the start. Win after win after win followed for Chatterton, and by Saturday evening, after a sixth straight victory, he was standing on the podium as the bronze medal winner at 145 pounds in Class AAA.
With the feat, Chatterton became the first wrestler to lose a preliminary bout and still win a bronze medal in the state wrestling championships, the best finish a wrestler in the consolation bracket can achieve. The preliminary round was added to the state tournament last year after each weight class was expanded from 16 to 20 wrestlers.
"That's pretty awesome to be the first person to do that," Chatterton said about his unlikely run to bronze. "I know the 20-man bracket is semi-new, but still, it's pretty cool."
Turning good into great: What Chatterton accomplished will no doubt go down as the top achievement in a high school career filled with them. He won more than 100 bouts, qualified for the state tournament all four years and placed as a freshman at 106 pounds. Yet, until this past weekend, he could never quite follow up that fifth-place finish in 2013, failing to reach the podium as a sophomore and junior. But, he never won a District 3 title, settling for third all four years, something noticeably missing from his list of accolades.
So, up until this past weekend, Chatteron was always seen as having a very good career, but lacked that quality performance that would put him into great territory.
A new challenge: Really, Chatterton's last gasp at high school glory began back in the District 3-AAA tournament two weeks ago when he broke his nose in his semifinal bout. Forced into the the third-place bout, he entered it wearing a mask and prevailed, securing the No. 3 seed out of the Southcentral Region heading into the state tournament.
But that broken nose is what made his already treacherous path to the state podium even more difficult. The constant bleeding led to blood stoppages in some of his state matches, forcing cotton plugs to be jammed up his nose, or his face getting completely wrapped, restricting his breathing.
"I never usually have a bloody nose until I broke my nose at districts," Chatterton said. "So, it's a new thing for me, but I had to get used to the nose plugs and the tape around my nose in the first match, which impaired my breathing, but I pretty much had to learn how to breathe again, or out of my mouth."
However, all the blood, nose plugs and mummification of his face did was add to the lore of his bronze-medal run.
Chatterton, who finished the year at 40-3, joked that he basically wrestled every kid in the 145-pound class, except for the top two guys. That's not much of a stretch of the truth. There's a reason why no other wrestler has done what he did in the last two years because, quite frankly, it's as close to impossible as you can get at the state level.
"Best wrestling that I've done": Forget having every match possibly being the last of your season, let alone your high school career. Even if you get past the first couple consolation rounds, more and more quality wrestlers drop into the consolation bracket, making each opponent that much tougher than the last. Then, there's the psychological part of wrestling that adds another opponent to overcome.
Chatterton, who plans to wrestle for NCAA Division II Shorter in Rome, Georgia, admitted that after his prelim loss, his confidence wasn't high. But, he went into each match taking it one at a time, and as the wins continued to mount, so too did his belief that he could take this run as far as he could possibly go.
"I wanted to dictate when my last high school wrestling match was going to be," Chatterton said. "So, once I got past the blood rounds, that was nice. But, yes, I would definitely say this was probably the best wrestling that I've done in my career. I've traveled to a lot of different places and wrestled in a lot of different places, but I'm glad I could put it together and beat some really good kids on my way through the consolation bracket."
Chatterton waited until the final days of his high school career to showcase his best wrestling performance.
And at the end of it all, he capped a great high school career with his greatest accomplishment to date — a state bronze medal.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org