Levi Haines (left) and David Taylor (right) at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials press conference at Bryce Jordan Center.
Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors

Levi Haines (left) and David Taylor (right) at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials press conference at Bryce Jordan Center.

2024 U.S. Olympic Team TrialsUSAWCollegeInternationalWomen

At 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, wrestling’s young stars will challenge the sport’s legends

by Cody Goodwin, Special To TheMat.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — David Taylor opened his M2 Training Center in 2017, and on the first day of practice, he noticed a curly-haired middle-schooler named Levi.

There was something different about this kid, Taylor remembered. He was tougher than most. His technique wasn’t great, but he refused to give up.

Most importantly, he never missed practice. Ever.

“Come to find out, he was driving two-and-a-half hours one way, and he’s at every single practice,” Taylor said. “There was something different about him. Not every wrestler has that fight in them. People wrestle, but some people quit and give up.”

That kid was Levi Haines, who’s since become a star: a Pennsylvania state champ, a Cadet world team member, and now a two-time All-American and 2024 NCAA champion for Penn State.

Taylor, of course, won a pair of NCAA titles himself at Penn State. He’s also won Olympic gold in Tokyo and three more world championships, part of a resurgent men’s freestyle program for USA Wrestling.

This weekend, Taylor and Haines will both compete at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Wrestling, which begin Friday at the Bryce Jordan Center. Taylor is one of the favorites at 86 kilograms while Haines is considered a darkhorse entry at 74 kilos.

“I don’t know if I ever imagined the Olympic Trials being held here at Penn State,” Haines said Thursday. “It’s pretty special that I’ll have the opportunity to do it here in my backyard.”

The Haines-Taylor dynamic — a coach and his star pupil competing in the same high-profile wrestling tournament — is perhaps the best illustration that a new wave of young wrestlers are ready to challenge the older stars at this year’s Trials.

Haines, 19, will have to navigate a weight that includes Jordan Burroughs, a six-time world champ and 2012 Olympic gold medalist; Kyle Dake, a four-time NCAA champ, four-time world champ, and 2020 Olympic bronze medalist; and Jason Nolf, a three-time NCAA champ. Haines is excited for the challenge.

“It’s pretty special that I get to compete against those guys,” Haines said. “Getting to wrestle against the legends of the sport, I’m forever grateful for that opportunity.

“These older guys are sticking around longer, so it’s a great opportunity for us younger guys to mix it up with guys who are generations ahead of us. It’s special.”

The 33-year-old Taylor, who’s already in the Trials’ best-of-three finals because he’s a returning world champ, must fend off younger challengers to make this year’s team. The 86-kg field includes Aaron Brooks and Carter Starocci, both four-time NCAA champs from Penn State, as well as Connor Mirasola, an incoming Nittany Lion recruit.

“I have a fire to be the best, and when you have a fire to be the best, you’ll do what you have to do to be at the top of your game,” Taylor said. “I have to come in ready to go every single day. We have these young guys pushing us.”

There have been years where the young up-and-comers overtake the veterans and make the U.S. Olympic Team.

In 2016, Kyle Snyder beat returning Olympic gold medal winner Jake Varner to make the team, then went on to win gold in Rio de Janeiro, becoming the youngest Olympic champion in American wrestling history.

Haines has dreamt of winning Olympic gold himself someday, and this weekend will be his first opportunity to position himself for that goal. He plans to utilize all the skills and knowledge he’s gleaned from Taylor over the years when he takes the mat on Friday.

“Dave’s the man,” Haines said. “When I first met him, I didn’t know a lot about wrestling. I just knew how to work hard. Dave taught me how to wrestle. Beforehand, I didn’t have many tools. I’m forever indebted to Dave for my wrestling career.

“I’ve replicated a lot of stuff. Dave has taught me so much about wrestling, more than I would’ve ever thought of. He’s a wealth of knowledge. I’ve tried to adopt his mentality, and that’s really helped me grow. I’m thankful for him for that.”

So far, it’s helped Haines become one of college wrestling’s top competitors and has put him on the shortlist to perhaps contend for future Senior-level world and Olympic teams — and his longtime coach isn’t at all surprised.

“He’s a guy that makes people want to quit wrestling,” Taylor said. “He’s not fun to wrestle. He’s relentless. And the crazy thing about Levi, he’s only 19 years old. In a different world, he could still be in high school. Instead, he’s a sophomore in college competing against some of the best in the world.

“He’s a generational talent. You hope you get an opportunity to coach a guy like that in your life, and we were fortunate that he was one of the first kids we ever coached. He just keeps getting better.”

Fans looking to attend the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in person can still purchase all session tickets and single session tickets through Ticketmaster.

For those unable to grab a ticket, all the action from Bryce Jordan Center will be broadcast by NBC properties, April 19-20. The Friday and Saturday evening sessions will be televised on USA Network. NBC’s streaming platform Peacock will host live streams of each mat throughout the competition.

Complete brackets and live results for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials will be hosted on Trackwrestling.com. Fans can also follow @usawrestling and #wrestlingtrials24 on the various social media platforms for regular updates throughout the event.

For complete coverage of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, please visit our event hub.

2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Wrestling | April 19-20, Bryce Jordan Center, State College, Pa.

Event Schedule

10 a.m. (ET) – Challenge tournament prelims, quarterfinals, consolations

6:30 p.m. (ET) – Challenge tournament semifinals, finals

10 a.m. (ET) – Championship series round one (all weights), championship series round two (GR 60-67-77 kg, MFS 57-65 kg), challenge tournament consolations, true third (if necessary)

6:30 p.m. (ET) –Championship series round two, championship series round three (if necessary)