Levi Haines is going global.
Haines, a Biglerville High School junior, won the 71-kilogram weight class in freestyle on Sunday at the UWW Cadet Nationals in Wisconsin. Haines pinned Aiden Riggins of Iowa in the third and deciding bout of the championship round, securing the title. In doing so, he earned a place on the United States team that will compete in the Cadet World Championships in Budapest, Hungary in July.
“It’s all kind of hard to take in, it happened kind of quick,” said Ken Haines, Levi’s father who attended the tournament. “He’s been working at it a long time and things have fallen into place.”
Levi, who remained with his M2 Trainer Center team in Wisconsin Sunday, was not available for comment.
“This is something that was on Levi’s radar, to go and represent the United States and gain international experience,” said Ken.
The tournament began for Haines on Saturday with a 10-0 technical fall in just 31 seconds. His second bout ended in a fall in 1:34, pushing him into the round of 16. There, Haines blanked Jed Wester of Minnesota, 11-0.
In his fourth match on Saturday, Haines faced off with fellow Pennsylvanian Enzo Marlacci of Kiski Area. Marlacci, who competed at 160 pounds during the scholastic season, carried a 3-1 advantage into the second of two two-minute periods, but Haines poured it on with seven unanswered points for an 8-3 victory.
Waiting in Sunday morning’s semifinals was Joseph Sealey of North Carolina. Sealey was seconds away from edging Haines before the Canner was awarded a point for a step-out with just six seconds remaining, tying it at 6-6. In freestyle scoring, the last wrestler to score in a tie bout is declared the winner, so Haines moved into the finals where Riggins awaited for a best-of-three series that would determine a spot on the world team.
Ironically, Haines and Riggins faced off five years ago in a dual meet tournament where both wrestlers were entered at 85 pounds. Ken said that Levi appeared to be the smallest wrestler in the bracket this weekend, as he moved up from 145 pounds during the scholastic season, but that didn’t stop him from delivering a massive outcome.
Haines ambushed the Iowan in their first bout, hooking up a series of leg laces that resulted in a 12-2 technical fall in 3:44. The win put him one step from securing a spot on the Cadet team, but Riggins answered the bell in the second bout.
A wild scramble near the end of the second period prompted a pair of scoring challenges, and following a review, Riggins was declared the winner of a 6-6 bout. The lengthy delay and ultimate ruling could have derailed some wrestlers, but Haines remained composed during the review, according to his father.
“He stays focused on the little things and doesn’t think about the end result,” said Ken. “He focuses on the steps in order to put himself in position to win. He doesn’t over-try, he stays even keel, and doesn’t let his emotions get involved. Emotions can rob you of strength and stamina.”
Now facing a short turnaround before a decisive third bout against Riggins, Haines had an ace in his corner in David Taylor, who runs the M2 club. Taylor, a former national champion at Penn State and current U.S. Olympic Team member, coached Levi throughout the tournament.
“Coach David was definitely in his ear and sharing experiences (between matches) and that was good for Levi to hear,” said Ken.
In the deciding match Haines left no doubt, piling up an early lead that grew to 10-1 before yet another scoring review. The score was adjusted to 8-4 in Haines’ favor prior to the start of the second period.
Another takedown made it 10-4 before Haines sealed his title with a pin, just like he did in Hershey last March in becoming a PIAA champion.
Ken said there are a pair of training camps scheduled for the U.S. team prior to the world championships, which take place July 19-25.
And how did Levi celebrate arguably his greatest achievement to date?
“They got back to the hotel and Levi and a bunch of his teammates were getting ready to go to a waterpark,” said Ken.