PITTSBURGH, Pa.: Chance Marsteller was talking to good friend David McFadden, the 174-pound All-American from Virginia Tech.
The Lock Haven senior made a comment about McFadden’s shoes, saying, “Are those team shoes?” McFadden came back with, “Yeah, what do you guys get?” Marsteller’s answer, “Dude, we go to Lock Haven.”
It was a funny exchange. There is no denying Lock Haven isn’t considered on the same level as Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa, Oklahoma State, or other schools in this year’s NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
But for Marsteller, Lock Haven was the perfect fit. This program, this coaching staff, not only changed his wrestling career, it changed his life.
Marsteller completed his college wrestling journey Saturday afternoon with a third-place finish at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena. The four-match run through the consolation bracket showed how far the New Park, Pa., native has come on the mat, but it also how he has progressed off the mat and in life, which is more impressive.
“I’ve said it multiple times that I’ve redefined myself over the past two years being a father, being an almost husband, being a better son, being a better family member, being a better student,” Marsteller said. “Those things are way more important to me than wrestling … That’s crazy.
“They are right there together. I can’t wrestle if I don’t take care of those things, so I’m happy to be able to prioritize differently. I think it’s helped me.”
And Marsteller needed it.
After becoming a four-time Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association champion at Kennard-Dale High School, Marsteller enrolled at Oklahoma State as the No. 1 recruit in the country.
Marsteller redshirted his freshman year and wrestled unattached. He came back in 2016 and wrestled 157, but the weight cut was draining, and things unraveled in a hurry.
There was a disconnect from the team, and Marsteller’s substance abuse problem took center stage. He was suspended from the team for an alcohol-related incident and, finally, transferred to Lock Haven in May of 2016.
Things got worse three months later, when Marsteller was arrested on six counts of aggravated assault, a variety of other offenses, and had alcohol and drugs in his system. It led to Marsteller being kicked out of the Bald Eagles program and out of school.
Marsteller received a sentence of seven years probation. He enrolled in a drug and alcohol treatment program and was even allowed to re-enroll at Lock Haven, but he didn’t return to the wrestling team until January 2018.
Since then, Marsteller has been a model student and teammate. He said Saturday that he has no regrets with how things turned out … Only that he got pinned in Friday’s quarterfinal match against Wisconsin’s Evan Wick.
“Getting pinned yesterday, yeah, it sucked, it really, really sucks,” Marsteller said. “I don’t know how to be more politically correct … It blows. But besides that, no, I love where I’m at.
“I love what I’ve done. I love what people have done for me. I’m lucky, I keep saying I’m lucky, but I think a lot of belief from other people and an internal drive from myself is what helped me. So, I have no regrets.”
Marsteller, who earned All-American status in 2018 with a fourth-place finish, faced Wick one more time Saturday afternoon. Ironically, the match-up mirrored the adversity of his college career.
Wick pinned Marsteller in last year’s third place match and again Friday. This time, the Bald Eagles ace took it to his nemesis at the opening whistle with a takedown to take a 2-0 first-period lead.
Marsteller took neutral in the second, to which Wick responded by tying the match with a takedown 11 seconds from the end of the period. That set up an epic final period that Marsteller will long remember.
The two-minute stanza brought Marsteller full circle. He reversed to take a 4-2 advantage before giving a point away on his second stalling call. Still, he didn’t get rattled and finished strong with two near-fall points and a 6-5 decision.
“I’m happy to go out on a win,” Marsteller said. “I’m happy with the way I wrestled on the backside. I’m still pretty devastated that I’m not going to end my career in the national finals, or as a national champ. So, I’m definitely salty, upset.
“But, I’m glad I’m tough enough mentally to get my head back on, come back through, and win four matches on the backside and improve from where I was last year.
“It messes with you a little mentally when you get pinned by a guy twice when you know you are better. So, that third match, it was good to get that monkey off my back and get the W.”
Marsteller didn’t just get a win, he, by all accounts, finished off a journey that made him a better overall person.
The competitiveness was still there after the win. Marsteller talked about preparing for the U.S. Open and wrestling freestyle, a discipline he prefers over folkstyle, which dominates high school and college competition.
But, Marsteller showed other qualities after his final match. There was a maturity, a sense of team unity, and love for a school that gave him a second chance.
“I want to give a lot of thanks to coach Weikel,” Marsteller said. “Rob Weikel is the mastermind, I think, behind the technique. Coach Moore is the operations man, he does a lot of things that most colleges would never see. Coach Perry, Ron Perry, national finalist last year, and Coach Carr, they are great workout partners.
“But again, Lock Haven needs to give more credit to Rob Weikel. The guy took Ron Perry to another level. He took me to another level, personally, and those are the kind of people you need.
“Coach Moore always has a vision for the future, and he’s done a good job with that. My teammates have done a good job with that, as well, just believing in that future vision. Lock Haven does a lot of stuff nobody else does.”
There was a time when Marsteller was compared to Cary Kolat, a four-time state champion and two-time national champion. It stuck, because Kolat coached Marsteller as a youth, and they both dominated the high school wrestling scene.
But, Marsteller couldn’t follow in the same footsteps. No two people are alike, and he had his own demons to overcome to get to where he is today.
“The whole thing with Cary Kolat, you can ask Cary, ask my mom, my dad, and I’ve said it since I was a kid, I don’t want to be the next Cary Kolat,” Marsteller said. “I want to be the first Chance Marsteller.
“I, definitely, think I’ve done that. I don’t think a lot of people want to take the route I did, so I’m me, and that’s it. You get what you get, and that’s a wrestler, a father, a teammate, and a son.”