HERSHEY – Chance Marsteller’s high school match unbeaten streak is on the line at the PIAA wrestling championships.
Get through this week’s tournament in Hershey unscathed and the Kennard Dale junior will take home his third state title. Only 10 wrestlers have won four PIAA crowns.
Three days of competition will culminate Saturday night with the crowning of the latest set of state champs.
Marsteller (36-0) returns in the Class AAA 160-pound weight class with an unbeaten streak of 121 high school matches. He began the season as the nation’s top ranked wrestler at 170, facing Canon-McMillan’s Cody Wiercioch (40-1) – another two-time PIAA champion who was ranked No. 2 – in the finals of the Powerade Christmas Tournament.
Marsteller escaped with a 3-2 ultimate tiebreaker victory, but he announced after the match that he would drop to 160 for the postseason tournaments. It effectively ended talk of a rematch with Wiercioch in the PIAA tournament.
But Marsteller may face another returning PIAA champion after Central Dauphin’s Garrett Peppelman (43-1) moved to 160 pounds after claiming a state title at 152 last year. The two have already faced off in the regional tournament Feb. 23, with Marsteller winning 7-2.
“I’ve been wanting to wrestle Garrett since I was little and it just never really happened,” said Marsteller after defeating Peppelman. “This is the first time I was able to cut to a weight he was at. I just like getting the best wrestlers and I wanted that match for a while and a lot of people knew that.
Wiercioch won a Class AA title as a 152-pound freshman and placed second at 160 as a sophomore while attending Charleroi. He transferred to Canon-McMillan prior to his junior year and claimed the PIAA Class AAA title at 170.
“This will be my last trip to Hershey. I want to end my career with a third PIAA title,” Wiercioch said.
Wiercioch’s teammate Connor Schram is also a three-time finalist, all in Class AAA. He won the 103-pound title as a freshman, but has had to settle for a silver medal the past two years while competing at 112 and 120. Schram (41-3) is entered at 126.
Canon-McMillan and Bethlehem Catholic claimed PIAA Team Tournament titles one month ago. Both squads are also favored to win the team title at the individual championships.
Chambersburg’s Garett Hammond, Kiski Area’s Matt McCutcheon, and Solanco’s Thomas Haines are the other three returning champions in the Class AAA tournament.
Hammond (43-6) has moved to 152 after winning at 145 last season. McCutcheon (34-1) won at 182 and is now competing at 195. Haines (34-1) is the defending champ at 220.
Hammond and McCutcheon enter the tournament on a negative note, as both lost in their regional tournament final.
The Class AA tournament features seven returning champions, including two-time winner Michael Racciato of Pen Argyl. Racciato (40-0) has moved to 145 after winning titles at 135 and 138.
“This is when wrestling is the most fun, and it’s time to go,” Racciato said. “There is no time for excuses, especially at states.”
The other returning Class AA champions are: Bethlehem Catholic’s Darian Cruz, Camp Hill Trinity’s Ryan Diehl, Kittanning’s Jason Nolf, Benton’s Zain Retherford, Milton’s Ryan Solomon, and Mifflinburg’s Nazar Mironenko.
Cruz placed third as a 103-pound sophomore, won last year at 106, and is now at 120.
“I’m glad to have that target on my back,” Cruz said. “That means I’ve done something.”
Diehl (37-3), now at 126, won at 113 last season after winning a pair of state titles in West Virginia.
Retherford (43-0) won the 103-pound title as a freshman, then placed third at 112 as a sophomore while attending Line Mountain. He transferred to Benton for the 2011-12 season, but was ruled ineligible for the season. He returns in the 138-pound weight class.