Alumni: Salamanca’s Haas Set For Big Finish at Lehigh
After what he calls “a lot of ups and downs,” Ben Haas thinks he’s found the right spot on the Lehigh University wrestling team.
Haas, a 2011 Salamanca High School graduate and New York State wrestling champion that year, started this season competing at 174 pounds. After a few matches, it just wasn’t feasible.
A redshirt junior, he took last year off from dual matches, practicing and entering in open tournaments. But over the summer, he got bigger, and found cutting the weight to 174 too difficult to pull on a regular basis.
He came back from an open tournament “16, 17 pounds over” weigh-in and knew he had to ask his coaches to move up.
“I was on a diet plan, I was running extra and stuff and I just sat down and talked with them and they were surprisingly (supportive),” he said while on a short break home last week. “They want me to perform well as well and the main goal is to not win in dual meets and these open tournaments. The goal is place at nationals. If I want to go and make weight two days in a row, I wouldn’t be able to do it at 174. I wouldn’t make weight the second day of a tournament, to be honest.”
So he jumped up to 197, where he started last Dec. 20, at Oklahoma University. In Norman, he defeated Oklahoma’s Brad Norman by a 6-2 decision. The No. 13 Mountain Hawks scored a 30-7 win over the No. 8 Sooners heading into the holidays.
“I DID WELL,” Haas said of his victory. “That kid’s a good kid. It’s just I know I can do better.”
Haas received a start over John Bolich (senior, No. 15 in InterMat rankings), but isn’t ready to consider himself a starter yet. Both will perform at the Southern Scuffle today and tomorrow in Chattanooga, Tenn., likely to impact the competition.
Entering the second half of the season at 7-2, Haas said he feels better at 197, where he hopes to pursue his goal of becoming an All-America.
“That’s everyone’s goal and that’s a realistic goal for me, I think, this year,” he said. “It’s nice to just focus on wrestling. I’m not a weight-cutter. I’m a wrestler first, so it’s nice to put that ahead of weight cutting.”
Looking back, Haas was initially slated to redshirt as a freshman to adjust to college wrestling after a prolific high school career. Instead, with an upperclassman sidelined for health issues, he was rushed into action at 164, going 4-14.
“I was actually injured early in the season,” Haas said of his first year. “Halfway through I had to come back straight from an injury and into the lineup. I never really earned a spot so it felt like almost I wasn’t supposed to be there and I didn’t have the right mindset. I was focused on just trying to make weight and looking at the wrong things.”
The next year, he improved to 8-11 at 164.
“I came back and I was supposed to be moving up to 174 that year,” he said, “and then our 165-pounder again had trouble and left and then I was the only guy certified (at 165) and had to go down to cover the spot. That was a big weight pull.”
Finally taking his planned redshirt year and moving to 174 as a junior, Haas said last season let him focus on wrestling away from the pressure of dual meets.
“IT’S ACTUALLY really nice because you get to step out of the spotlight,” he said. “When you’re always out there performing during the season it’s tough to get better because you’re always focused and watching film, getting ready for matches and things. When you take a year off, you’re not focused so much on outside influences. You focus on you as a wrestler.”
He considers the redshirt year one of the main reasons for his play this season.
“Over the summer I actually took a lot of time off and I came back home for about a month for an internship and I think it made me hungrier to get back out on the mat,” Haas said. “Also it’s a lot about confidence. When you’re recruited to go to Div. I everyone’s supposed to be there. It’s just a matter if you think you’re supposed to be there. It’s definitely going to affect how you do. I had to build that confidence and make myself feel like I deserved it.”
As a team, Lehigh now sits No. 10 in the USA Today/NWCA Coaches poll at 7-1,its only loss to Pittsburgh.
“We’ve been talking about it for years, ‘This (2015-16) is our year, all our guys are mature, have a lot of guys nationally ranked,’” Haas recalled. “And we actually had a lot of blips in the beginning of the year. Guys were dropping matches and I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. But especially the Oklahoma trip was a ton of fun. Everyone was lighthearted and we were just having fun and I think that helped a lot. I think that Oklahoma win is going to give us a lot of confidence.”
(Salamanca Press sports editor Sam Wilson may be contacted at email@example.com.)