Live coverage from Day 1 of the PIAA wrestling championships

When Cooper Deller was in junior high, Dallastown wresting coach Matt Striebig wasn't sure if his now senior had what it took to be a freshman on the varsity team.

"I wasn't sure how physically tough he was," Striebig said. "He didn't carry himself like (a tough guy). . . . He still not a kid you look at and think 'tough.'"

Striebig made the move and has never had any reason to second-guess himself.

Four years and more than 100 individual wins later, Deller will cap his scholastic career Thursday when he competes in the 182-pound weight class of the PIAA Class AAA Wrestling Championships, being held at the Giant Center in Hershey through Saturday evening.

And he'll be doing with two broken vertebrae. Toughness? Check.

In May of his sophomore year, Deller hyperextended his back during a club practice, resulting in broken L4 and L5 vertebrae. But that injury was not going to get in the way of his Wildcat career.

"I spent three or four months in a big back brace," the senior said. "I started wrestling in August (of that year). It was freak accident so I wasn't too concerned about it."

He missed a couple of weeks during his junior season when he tweaked his back at an early-season tournament. But other than missing an occasional practice and taking some anti-inflammatories, the injury is a thing of his past.

His present is making the most of his chance at one of the nation's premier high school wrestling tournaments. He earned his spot with a silver-medal finish at the District 3 Championships.

Striebig knew, even in junior high, Deller (32-4) had something many kids don't.

"He has a knack to end up on top in scrambles. That's something you can't teach," Striebig said.

However, it was developing a better offense that both Striebig and Deller credited with his finally making it to the big show in Hershey.

"I went to camp at Virginia Tech. They taught me to get in and shoot as hard as possible," said the future Seton Hill College wrestler. "Something just clicked. Now, I get in on a leg and finish as quick as possible."

Deller won't be the lone Wildcat competing at the Giant Center this weekend. He will be joined there by Dallastown juniors Rodney Sunday (126) and Wes Hoover (138), as well as fellow senior Tanner Druck (152).

Having so many teammates, especially Druck, make the trip to states with him has made it an even more enjoyable experience for Deller.

"Tanner and I have been friends since the beginning (of our careers). We really push each other. And it's really been cool that the four of us made it. We fueled off each other (at districts)," he said.

Striebig has also savored the opportunity to be a busy coach this afternoon.

"It's nice to see them achieve their goal," he said. "It's great to be part of the journey. I'm equally proud of all my wrestlers."

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League participants: The Wildcat foursome is part of a 12-man contingent from the YAIAA who are in the Class AAA field. All of those grapplers are first-time participants except for Kennard-Dale junior Chance Marsteller, the two-time state champion, and Eastern York's Alex Cooley. Cooley qualified last year for the Class AA portion of the tournament.

In Class AA action, eight league competitors will be seeking PIAA titles. Hanover's Ian Brown, Bermudian Springs' Tristan Sponseller and Biglerville's Trevor Stover are each making a return visit to the Giant Center. Brown and Sponseller, both juniors, will be taking part in their third state tournament.