HERSHEY >> Chance Marsteller's back might have been his toughest adversary.
Following the Kennard-Dale senior's fourth straight PIAA Class AAA wrestling championship Saturday night at Giant Center, Marsteller admitted he did not want to show the pain stemming from a stress fracture in his lower back. Marsteller said he suffered it three weeks ago during a sectional tournament.
Showing pain is not what wrestlers do, he said, even though he could not walk for more than a day.
Earlier in Marsteller's senior season, he thought he was suffering nerve problems around his back.
"This was different," he said Saturday. "This was a lot of pain I've never felt before."
Wrestling at 170 pounds, Marsteller was not even sure if he would be allowed to compete at one point. Leading up to this weekend's state tournament, Marsteller said his coach, Mike Balestrini, looked at him and told him: "Go undefeated."
So Marsteller did.
His 14-2 major decision against Pittsburgh Central Catholic's Kyle Coniker completed a four-year performance unlike any other in York County history.
Marsteller finished his career 166-0 and became the 11th four-time state champ in Pennsylvania history. Solanco 285-pounder Thomas Haines later joined him in that club as No. 12, and both were greeted by 1950 Clearfield graduate Jerry Maurey.
Maurey was the second wrestler in PIAA history to win four state titles and finish unbeaten in his career. Marsteller became the fifth undefeated four-time state champion.
Now, he anticipates wearing a back brace for the next four weeks. Marsteller said he drew inspiration from Council Rock South's Billy Rappo, who in 2011 won a state championship with a broken hand and had lost a kidney as a child.
"He had his whole hand taped up," Marsteller said. "I was thinking about how he had one kidney and a completely broken hand. If he came out undefeated, why can't I?"
Marsteller's fourth title eclipsed a three-title record he shared with 1990 South Western graduate Joey Wildasin. He also battled injuries, including a torn rotator cuff and broken ankle. The ankle injury came in the state finals, and Wildasin still managed to win his final title.
Like Wildasin, Marsteller also plans to attend Oklahoma State — a choice he made after reneging an initial verbal commitment to Penn State.
The parallels between York County's most storied wrestlers are not just with their colleges.
"The first time I saw Marsteller wrestle, he was a clone of Joey," said Mark Bowersox, Wildasin's high school coach. "It's the hips. They almost use their hips identically. If you watch them closely, the positioning of their hips is really the common thing."
Marsteller used those hips to pound through 41 victories this season. His career win total is not near any state records, but Marsteller wrestled more than the five previous unbeaten champions. Before Cary Kolat of Jefferson-Morgan in 1992, those champions wrestled only 65 to 85 times in their high school careers. The number of matches available to a high school wrestler grew with popularity of in-season tournaments and expansion of the state tournament.
Kolat went on to win two national championships for Lock Haven and became an Olympian, a goal Marsteller mentioned is one of his.
After Bowersox's time with Wildasin in the early '90s, he found it nearly impossible to attend a wrestling event without someone asking about his prodigy.
"I've heard it a thousand times," Bowersox said. "There'd never be another Joey Wildasin. I'd say, 'Give it 20 years,' and in 20 years, right on the button, there was this eighth grader, and I was right."
Chances are Balestrini will start to hear the same thing.