When it came down to it, one of the biggest decisions of Levi Haines’ life wasn’t really a difficult choice at all.
The Biglerville junior announced on Thursday that he has verbally committed to continue his wrestling career at Penn State University. Haines, who won a PIAA Class 2A title at 145 pounds in March, had been one of the most sought-after recruits in the junior class. Other high-profile programs came calling for his services, but Haines had his heart set on a dream destination.
“I’ve always really had a love for Penn State,” he said on Thursday evening. “I’ve wanted to go there for a long time. It’s a great fit for me, better than any other place. And what it comes down to, is it gives me the best chance to achieve my ultimate goals.”
Stock has soared for the Canner star since powering his way to state gold in Hershey. His pin of Sullivan County’s Nathan Higley secured a coveted title, and his 100th career win against only five losses. Haines went unbeaten last season, capturing section, District 3, region and super region titles in emphatic fashion.
Of his 100 career wins, 92 have been of the bonus-point variety. Haines was a state runner-up in each of his first two varsity seasons, taking silver at 106 and 126 pounds, respectively.
Haines followed his state title run with an even more impressive performance at the UWW Cadet Nationals held in Wisconsin. Competing in freestyle at 71 kilograms, Haines once again stormed to the top of the podium, winning a national title that sealed a spot on the United States team that will compete in the world championships in July in Budapest, Hungary.
“It’s been a cool experience and I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given,” he said of the whirlwind of events over the last two months. “It’s neat but I don’t make it out to be more than what it is. Everybody has a plan and this is part of the plan God has for me.”
When Haines sat down and examined what he wanted, both academically and athletically at the next level, Penn State checked every box.
“A lot of things lined up perfectly,” he said. “On the academic side, I’ll major in Wildlife and Fisheries and they have one of the best programs in the county. Wrestling style. . . it matches up perfectly. They’re a competitive team that wants to win, and I want to win. I love the area; I’ve spent a lot of time there. Everything just fell into place and I knew that’s where I needed to go.”
Haines has a level of familiarity with the Penn State program thanks to time spent at David Taylor’s M2 Training Center near State College. Taylor, a former Nittany Lion great who was a two-time NCAA champion, world champion and U.S. Olympic Team member, was in Haines’ corner during the Cadet trials.
“It made the most sense,” Haines said. “I’m wrestling under a coach that has developed me through the style taught at Penn State. It’s a very competitive team and I like the atmosphere. I’ve trained at the (Nittany Lion Wrestling Club) a couple of times and I enjoyed being part of the atmosphere.”
Haines said there were other suitors, including Purdue, West Virginia, Rutgers and Penn, but Penn State was the clear choice.
Because of an extended recruiting dead period, Haines was unable to make an official visit to Penn State. He said communication with Nittany Lion head coach Cael Sanderson took place instead. Sanderson has guided Penn State to eight team titles at the NCAA Championships since 2011, leading four Nittany Lions to national titles this season.
“I think the coaching staff at Penn State is second to none,” said Ken Haines, Levi’s father and head coach at Biglerville. “I’ve been really impressed with how things are done there. I’ve reminded Levi that this is another chapter, a new beginning with his career and a huge step. At times there will be a lot of challenges and obstacles that will help him grow. That’s all part of trying to become the best wrestler he can.”
“You have to keep it perspective, because a loss here or a loss there doesn’t define a career. A win here or a win there doesn’t define a career, either. Levi has a lot of growing and learning to do and Penn State is the place to help him do that. I’m really excited and looking forward to it.”