Different paths lead York County brothers to brink of fulfilling Olympic wrestling dreams

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
Kennard-Dale High graduates John Stefanowicz, left, and Chance Marsteller celebrate after wrestling wins. The brothers will both compete for spots on Team USA at Olympic Team Trials in Texas this weekend.
  • Chance Marsteller and John Stefanowicz grew up dreaming of making Team USA in wrestling.
  • Both brothers will compete for their respective spots on the 2021 U.S. Olympic team.
  • Marsteller will wrestle in the 74-kilogram freestyle class. Stefanowicz is in the Greco-Roman 87-kilogram class..

Like a lot of kids, John Stefanowicz and Chance Marsteller had lofty goals while growing up in York County.

The brothers, both Kennard-Dale High School graduates, envisioned themselves representing Team USA Wrestling in the Olympics. Now, years later, the pair have the opportunity to make those dreams come true.

Stefanowicz and Marsteller will compete at the  U.S. Olympic Team Trials this weekend in Fort Worth, Texas. At stake will be potential spots on the U.S. team for the Tokyo Summer Games.

“This is like when we were little kids and we would joke around and say we could do this and everything else is practice except for the Olympics,” Stefanowicz said. “When it actually comes to fruition, like it is now, it’s like: ‘Wow, we're actually both wrestling to make the Olympic team.’ For it to actually occur decades later, it really brings everything around into perspective.

"When you hear those stories from the people that came before you, when they talk about like anything is possible and how things can happen, we’re usually the ones sitting there saying: ‘Yeah, it'll never happen, or at least it won't happen to me.’ And now I'm the one saying how it's possible and it can happen.

"It's definitely a nostalgic feeling of being able to look back and see the times when we were little kids wrestling, training and practicing. Now it's actually coming true.”

Taking different paths: Despite reaching team trials at the same time, the brothers took very different routes to get there.

Stefanowicz was not a star high school wrestler and struggled to generate college recruiting interest. So, he joined the Marines. There, as he continued to mature, he grew 7 inches and gained nearly 75 pounds. With a much larger frame than he had as a 5-foot, 3-inch, 125-pound high school senior, Stefanowicz started to dominate on the mat.

Kennard-Dale High graduate John Stefanowicz, right, wrestles for Team USA at the 2020 Pan Am Games against Mexico's Jose Andres Vargas Rueda. John Stefanowicz won a gold medal at the event.

The older brother had earned a spot on Team USA’s Greco-Roman roster by 2017 and picked up a victory at the Final X event in 2019 and the gold medal at 82 kilograms (181 pounds) at the 2020 Pan American Games.

Meanwhile, Marsteller was just the opposite. The younger brother won four PIAA state titles, went 166-0 during his Kennard-Dale  career  and was generally regarded as one of the top wrestlers in Pennsylvania high school history. The 2014 K-D grad originally attended NCAA Division I Oklahoma State before he transferred to NCAA D-I Lock Haven University, where he became a two-time NCAA All-American.

Kennard-Dale grad Chance Marsteller dominant in qualifying for U.S. Olympic Team Trials

Marsteller earned his spot at team trials with a dominant effort during the Last Chance Qualifier event in Texas last weekend. The former Rams standout was back to his typical high school results, not allowing a single point en route to the victory. He outscored his five opponents 38-0 to earn his team trials spot.

Kennard-Dale High graduate Chance Marsteller wrestles during the Last Chance Qualifier event in Texas. Marsteller won the event and didn't allow a point in five matches.

Marsteller could not be reached to be interviewed for this article.

Stefanowicz has also recently competed. The 2009 K-D graduate participated in a pair of international events this year at his new weight, 87 kilograms (192 pounds), and said the experience on the mat before a major event like Olympic team trials is crucial.

“It's all about the environment and being comfortable,” Stefanowicz said. “Putting yourself out and be able to take the risks. You get comfortable in a wrestling room where you practice and it's easy to do stuff, and then you get out there on the stages under the lights and everything, and it doesn't quite always work out the same. Most of that is due to the fact that you're not comfortable.

"I'm trying to look and see, not just about winning, but trying to hit large moves, trying to expand the repertoire pretty much and see what other styles I can incorporate into my own.”

Stefanowicz said the brothers would likely share a few meals during the week in Texas but probably won’t train together so they don’t mess with their normal routines. Stefanowicz said that watching Marsteller in the qualifier event last week was stressful for him, but he was proud of his brother.

Special performances needed: To make their Olympic dreams come true, the pair will need to pull off a string of special performances in Texas.

'Warrior mindset' puts Kennard-Dale grad in strong position to earn unlikely Olympic berth

Stefanowicz enters as the No. 4 seed in the men’s Greco-Roman 87 kilogram class. In Greco-Roman wrestling, only upper-body moves are permitted. Notable wrestlers ahead of him are No. 2 seed Jonathan Anderson, who beat Stefanowicz for the 2019 Armed Forces freestyle championship, and former team trial winner Jon Rau. After he claimed the 2016 crown at 98 kilograms, Rau didn’t qualify in the weight class for the Olympics and is a member of the U.S. World Team at this weight.

Marsteller’s path to victory may be even more of a challenge. Fresh off his big win last weekend, Marsteller grabbed the No. 2 seed in the men’s freestyle 74 kilogram field. Freestyle wrestling is similar to the folkstyle format used in high school wrestling. Ahead of him in the Challenge Bracket is Jason Nolf, a three-time NCAA champion and four-time NCAA All-American at Penn State.

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If Marsteller advances past Nolf and the rest of the field, he will have to beat a rested two-time Olympian. Jordan Burroughs was a member of the 2012 and 2016 Olympic squads and has won four world championships. Because of his 2019 world-medal win at the weight, Burroughs has received a bye all the way until the best-of-three finals on Saturday.

The Challenge Tournaments set for Friday will produce finalists for Saturday’s championship series that will determine Team USA. The team trials event will be streamed on Peacock and NBC Sports all weekend.

Different journeys end in same spot: Years after they envisioned this opportunity as kids, Stefanowicz and Marsteller are now grown men with their own children.

Wrestling took them down different lanes in life, but their courses will converge in Texas this weekend with an opportunity to make their childhood dreams come true.

“That's just divine,” Stefanowicz said. “I turn around and see that it was all meant for a reason. My path worked out best for me. Chance’s path worked out best for him to be where he's at right now, and today we're both happy.

"The paths were so far left and right of each other, now that they're finally together it's this dumb luck. I just think it was just meant to be and worked out right. God willing, we were able to come together.”

— Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.