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The legend of Chance Marsteller's high school wrestling career at Kennard-Dale is well known, not just in York County, but around wrestling circles around the state.

The former Ram standout went 166-0 in his four years, winning four PIAA state titles.

So, it's ironic that, of all the great wrestlers to come out of these parts, the best of the bunch came from a wrestling program that hardly has a pedigree of greatness outside of him.

A program that began in 1989-90, the last few years for the team, as a whole, were easily the best. Kennard-Dale won back-to-back York-Adams League Division II titles in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and finished third this year. However, even with that improved team success, the individual triumph rarely culminated in a wrestler making it to the state competition to even try and replicate what Marsteller once made look routine.

Until this year.

With the 2017 PIAA state tournament set to begin on Thursday, the Rams will send two wrestlers to the competition, matching a program best. Freshman Nick Bradley will compete at 138 pounds, while senior Andrew Barnett will take part at 145 pounds.

"They both set making the state tournament as a goal," head coach Tad Harbert said. "So, they're satisfied with meeting that goal, but now it's trying to convince and talk to these guys and having them buy into that everybody is 0-0 at this tournament and trying to win some matches and seeing if they can get up on that podium."

"Fearless freshman": Since 2008, only three other wrestlers from K-D have ever taken part in states. Marsteller dominated the middleweights from 2011-14, while Victor Bracey qualified in 2010 and Michael Bracey took part as a sophomore in 2014 and last year as a senior. Bradley and Barnett will join that very limited list on Thursday when the competition commences, and will do so at two completely opposite ends of the spectrum in their high school careers.

For Bradley, he enters the state competition as what Harbert describes as a "fearless freshman," qualifying for the highest level of individual high school competition in just his first year. He boasts a record of 23-10 and is the No. 6 seed out of the southeast, after qualifying in the regional competition last weekend. He'll have to go through the preliminary round to crack the main draw and will face District 2 Hanover Area's D.J. Erickson (32-13), the No. 4 seed out of the northeast region.

"I want him to win a couple matches," Harbert said about Bradley. "He is a freshman, so his window is wide open. ...It was great to have the district tournament at the Giant Center this year because the kids are going to be used to the atmosphere, so I think he'll do well."

One final chance: On the other hand, Barnett knows that this is it for him and his high school career as a senior.

He's accomplished more than most wrestlers have in K-D history, compiling a 109-30 career record so far. He finished as runner-up in the District 3 2-A tournament this year and qualified third out of the southeast region last weekend. Barnett enters the state tournament 32-4 on the season and has earned every win of that record with his hard work in practice and leadership on the team.

Harbert, who's in his first year coaching the Rams, said when he arrived in the offseason, the biggest thing he had to work on with Barnett was his confidence. He needed to instill a belief in him that he could more than hold his own against some of the league and area's best 145-pounders . And it showed, as Barnett improved his record with 10 more wins and five fewer losses than last season. When he takes the mat on Thursday, he'll face Todd Lane (42-4) of Southern Columbia, the top seed out of the northeast region.

"Last year, he was 22-9 and I think he was satisfied with his finish and I didn't want him to be satisfied this year," Harbert said. "You've seen a new kid, he's 32-4 and the kids that he's lost to, he's lost to some decent kids and he's wrestling with a little chip on his shoulder."

Establishing a culture: With how little tradition K-D wrestling has outside of the four years of Marsteller, it can't be overstated by how significant it is to have not one, but two wrestlers from the team competing in states.

Harbert came from a successful Greater Latrobe program in the Pittsburgh area where he served as a coach for 15 years, including as head coach the final four. So he knows all about what sending kids to states can do to establish the perception of a program.

He's hoping Bradley and Barnett taking part is the first step in doing the same in Fawn Grove.

"I just hope it opens eyes, especially in the youth program," he said. "...Hopefully it spurs more growth in the sport. Right now, down in the school district, numbers are hurting. Junior Olympic numbers were pretty decent this year, but the numbers are very low at the junior high and senior high level, so they need to build those numbers back up. When the community sees success, I think it will spur on some of the younger kids in the district to want to wrestle, so I think it can do nothing but help."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com

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