Kennard-Dale grad John Stefanowicz clinches Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling berth

ROB ROSE
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Kennard-Dale High graduate John Stefanowicz, right, has his hand raised after he won the 82-kilogram (181-pound) gold medal at the 2020 Pan Am Games in March. Stefanowicz is ranked No. 1 in his weight class for Team USA.

John Stefanowicz has booked himself a trip to Tokyo.

The Kennard-Dale High School graduate swept the favorite in his 87-kilogram (192-pound) Greco-Roman weight class in a best-of-three championship series at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Forth Worth, Texas on Saturday. That triumph over Joe Rau allowed Stefanowicz to claim a spot on Team USA for the Olympic Games this summer in Japan. 

Rau had been able to sit out after he won the 2016 Olympic Team Trials at 97 kilograms, but didn't qualify for the Olympics. Rau was also the returning World Team member at the 87-kilogram Greco-Roman weight class.

Stefanowicz won the first match vs. Rau, 6-5, and held onto to a 2-1 lead to clinch the win in the second bout.

After Stefanowicz was forced to come from behind to win the first match, he went after Rau early in the second match. Stefanowicz scored two points on a takedown and used his defense to secure the victory.

Rau received a point and position on Stefanowicz because of a passive ruling by the official with under two minutes left in the match, but the K-D grad was able to escape easily.

"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,’" Stefanowicz said last week. "Now I'm the one saying how it's possible and it can happen."

Stefanowicz recently moved into the 87-kilogram weight class to compete for an Olympic spot. He was the top-ranked 82-kilogram Greco-Roman U.S. wrestler in 2019 and won a gold medal at the 2020 Pan Am Games, but changed weights because 82 kilograms was not an option to qualify for Tokyo.

The older brother of former K-D phenom Chance Marsteller, Stefanowicz failed to qualify for a PIAA state tournament in high school and received no interest from college wrestling programs.

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

After graduation, he joined the Marines, where he grew seven inches and gained 75 pounds. Within five years of getting back into the sport, Stefanowicz earned a spot on Team USA’s Greco-Roman roster in 2017 and picked up a victory at the Final X event in 2019

Friday at the Olympic Team Trials Challenger Bracket finals, Stefanowicz defeated No. 3 seed Pat Martinez 1-1 to reach the best-of-three overall final vs. Rau.

Martinez was given a point in the first period after Stefanowicz was warned for being passive and led 1-0 after the first period. Stefanowicz was awarded a point in the second period to tie the match and won because he scored the last point.

The victory was the third straight win of the day for Stefanowicz in which he overcame a first-period deficit.

To face Martinez, the K-D grad executed a clutch move to clinch the 6-3 victory over No. 2 seed Alan Vera to reach the final in the Challenger Bracket.

Stefanowicz trailed Vera 3-2 with 11 seconds left before he was able to pick up a four-point move on Vera. After the officials conferred and agreed Stefanowicz earned four points, Vera stopped wrestling and shook Stefanowicz's hand as the final seconds ticked away.

In his first match of the day, Stefanowicz overcame an early three-point deficit to win, 9-3, over Barrett Stanghill.

Stefanowicz, the No. 4 seed, bounced back from a slow start to dominate the No. 5 seed in the second period with nine points.

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.

Marsteller ousted: While Stefanowicz was in the midst of his first match, his younger brother, Chance Marsteller, defeated former Penn State star Vincenzo Joseph in the 74-kilogram (163-pound) freestyle class Challenger Bracket.

Marsteller defeated Joseph, 3-3. Joseph was deemed passive twice during the match, which allowed Marsteller to earn the win after he scored the last point.

Joseph held a 1-0 lead after the first period, but Marsteller scored a takedown and survived for the victory. It was a rematch of the Last Chance Qualifier final last weekend. Marsteller won that bout, 5-0, over the two-time PSU NCAA champion.

Marsteller, however, was eliminated in the following round by former Wisconsin standout Evan Wick, 4-0 by fall in the first period. Marsteller then lost to Logan Massa in the first round of the consolation bracket, 9-4.

Wick, a two-time NCAA All-American at Wisconsin, was beaten by Marsteller, 10-0, during an event in Pittsburgh in January. In 2019, the men split a pair of matches during the NCAA Championships, with Marsteller claiming the second to finish third in the tournament.

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.