Chance Marsteller from Kennard-Dale (Fawn Grove Pa.)
is built like a wrestler from the neck down. The expression on the face of the clean-cut redhead every time a referee raises his arm after a match gives the appearance of an unyielding passion for the sport.
Sometimes looks don't tell the entire story. In Marsteller's case, however, they do.
This kid flat-out loves to wrestle — and dominate opponents.
The phenom many refer to as the "LeBron James of high school wrestling" went 42-0 as a freshman in the 152-pound weight class on his way to a Pennsylvania Class AAA state title in 2011. It came as no surprise to anyone who follows the sport, including his coach, who credits his prodigy's work ethic as his greatest attribute.
"He constantly works hard and has a passion to improve," says fifth-year coach Mike Balestrini. "He truly believes he is the best, but works as if he is not. He is one of the mentally toughest wrestlers I have ever seen."
Marsteller followed up his first state title with a dominating performance last summer at the USA Wrestling Cadet/Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D. In 17 matches spread over two weeks, Marsteller did not give up a single point on his way to the Greco-Roman and freestyle titles, winning the latter for the second-straight year using his trademark style.
"I'm a hands-in-your-face style wrestler," Marsteller, 16, says. "I'm always on the offensive, very aggressive, and try to turn every move into a score."
Winning is nothing new to the sophomore. He has been dominating opponents ever since he fell in love with the sport at age 10. It was then when he realized that the harder he worked in between matches, the more successful he could be during them.
"I started to embrace the grind when I was 10," Marsteller says. "I laugh when people say I take it too seriously."
As a youngster he wrestled against kids several years older than him — many with state titles — at some of the country's most prestigious tournaments. More often than not, he held his own. As an eighth-grader he wrestled in college tournaments against high school upperclassmen already committed to wrestle on scholarships in college, and sometimes grappled with the college wrestlers themselves.
Those early experiences laid the foundation for Marsteller as he works to achieve his one goal as a high school wrestler: To win four state titles.
"I need to constantly improve and push myself to reach that goal," he says.
But his aspirations reach far beyond the packed high school gymnasiums where he currently performs in front of curious fans from all over who have heard about, but never seen, the phenom.
"My goal is to win Olympic gold," he confidently says. "And I will stop at nothing to reach that goal."
Marsteller's style and determination have drawn comparisons to one of his mentors, former Olympian Cary Kolat, who is a two-time NCAA champion and one of only four Pennsylvania wrestlers to finish his high school career with four state titles and zero losses. Kolat's bouts were typically one-sided, just like Marsteller's.
"I don't like being compared to other wrestlers," Marsteller says. "My style is similar to his because I worked with him a lot, but I don't want to be the second of anyone. I want to be the first Chance Marsteller."
Kennard-Dale was not a wrestling powerhouse before Marsteller walked onto the mats in the gymnasium. It isn't now, and it may not be when he leaves. But his impact on wrestling has been felt throughout Fawn Grove, a rural York County community.
"As a team we are not very successful because of our low numbers," Balestrini explains. "Chance is very influential, especially at the youth level. Our numbers have steadily increased in the program since he started because kids believe they can win now."
Marsteller had opportunities to wrestle at private boarding schools rich in wrestling tradition. Instead, he chose to stay entrenched in his small Pennsylvania hometown, confident he could still make a name for himself in a state fertile with many of the country's top wrestlers.
"We had a talk in the summer before his freshman year and I told him he could go anywhere else and make a great team better or he could stay and help build a program that could compete at the state level," Balestrini recalls. "He always likes a challenge and he knew that AAA Pennsylvania wrestling was the place he wanted to make his mark."
Marsteller also makes his mark locally as a coach, helping out with local youth wrestling programs, which he admits helps improve his own skills.
"Coaching allows me to break down my own techniques when I teach them to others," he says.
Marsteller's willingness to give back to the community, his polite nature — he addresses people with "yes sir" and "yes ma'am" — and his down-to-earth personality are traits that make the honor roll student a perfect role model.
"He is a tremendous example for our students, both athletically and socially," says Kennard-Dale assistant principal Gary McChalicher. "He works hard, is very well mannered, and is a pleasure to have in our school. Chance represents everything that is good about high school athletics."
This season, Marsteller is 15-0 wrestling in the 160- and 170-pound weight classes. While it would be easy for someone with his skills and reputation to rest on his laurels and coast through the regular season to ensure a healthy entry into the state tournament, that's not Marsteller's style.
"I have to get better at my mat wrestling," he says. "I've gotten better at riding and scoring from the top, but there is always room for improvement."
The physically gifted Marsteller doesn't coast in the offseason either. While working as a roadside summer salesman on the family's 100-acre farm, he works out twice a day, six days a week, doing a combination of speed and strength training. "I take one day off each week to rest and heal," he says.
Marsteller has a clear plan, and learned early on what it will take to reach his goals on the wrestling mat. He knows that wrestling is a combination of physical skills and mental toughness. But he has experienced firsthand that what has separated him from his opponents is a desire to constantly improve in a sport he fell in love with at an early age, and to this day, remains passionately committed to.
"I have made wrestling a way of life," Marsteller says. Jon Buzby is a sports columnist for the Newark (Del.) Post, a freelance writer, and on the broadcast team for the 1290AM The Ticket High School Football and Basketball Games of the Week. You may reach him at email@example.com