LHU: Haines looks to end collegiate career on top
By MITCH RUPERT
LOCK HAVEN – Thomas Haines can’t help but smile when he talks about wrestling. It’s what he loves. No matter the obstacles which have been tossed in front of him since graduating from Solanco High School, the Lock Haven senior still loves wrestling.
Now, Lock Haven’s redshirt senior heavyweight is left with three days to showcase what all the work has built. Wrestling since first grade, it’s surreal for Haines to think about his career being reduced to three days. But with his final NCAA tournament beginning Thursday in Pittsburgh, it’s all he has left.
“It’s not a lot of time to show the work I’ve put in, but it’s what we’re given,” Haines said. “We don’t have a weekly televised game like football. We have nationals and that’s where it happens.”
Haines is one of only 13 wrestlers in PIAA history to win four state championships. But he enters PPG Paints Arena on Thursday still searching for his first All-Amercan honor as one of the Top 8 finishers in his weight class.
That’s still the goal. It always has been. But it’s not what Haines said is going to define him when the weekend is over. He can look back on his collegiate career – 90 victories and an Eastern Wrestling League championship – and be satisfied with his career no matter what happens over its final three days.
“At times, with the injuries and everything, it was disappointing,” Haines said. “But when I was wrestling, I always loved it and was happy with how I did getting on the mat and leaving it all out there. I’ve put in a lot of work and won a lot of matches. I think that at the end of the day, as long as I wrestle my hardest and put everything on the mat, I can consider it a success no mater what the result it. But I’m shooting for that All-American and the top of the podium.”
This weekend isn’t going to tell the entire story of Haines’ history at Lock Haven. He is a big part of the reason the Bald Eagles have reached heights nationally it hasn’t in decades. His transfer from Ohio State, along with Chance Marsteller’s from Oklahoma State in the summer of 2016, was Lock Haven’s springboard to the Top 25.
Coach Scott Moore and his staff had already put together impressive recruiting lists, but in Haines and Marsteller, he had cornerstone wrestlers. Lock Haven announced its presence on a national level with authority when it defeated nationally-ranked Big 10 opponent Rutgers in front of a standing-room only crowd in December of 2017. And it was Haines which provided the emphatic finish with a fall in the night’s final bout to give the Bald Eagles a 22-16 win over the No. 11-ranked Scarlet Knights.
Lock Haven has been a fixture in the Top 25 ever since.
“He’s been a huge part of the success of our program,” Moore said. “The All-American title is great and I think it’s something he certainly can achieve. But at the end of this season I think you can certainly look back and say that was one of the reasons we won two EWL titles and we had two winning seasons in a row, and one of the reasons we’re scoring so high at the national tournament.”
This is Haines’ third trip to the national tournament. He’s gone 2-2 in each of his previous two trips, winning once in both the championship and consolation bracket each season.
Last year, his championship run ended with a loss to eventual national runner-up Adam Coon of Michigan. Two years ago, he lost to eventual fourth-place finisher Ty Walz of Virginia Tech.
Haines opens the national tournament this year against Virginia Tech’s Billy Miller, an opponent Haines knows well from Miller’s days at Edinboro. Miller defeated Haines, 4-2, in the EWL final in 2018.
“I feel like I’m where I need to be,” Haines said. “Nothing is going to hold me back. I’m exactly where I need to be.”
“The biggest thing is he’s going in healthy and hungry to the national tournament, so we’re getting the best Thomas Haines we could ask for,” Moore said. “I think win, lose or place, he’s definitely achieved a lot of success during his time here.”