Trinity Thomas' SEC title leads banner weekend for local college standouts

Penn State wrestler Levi Haines also finished runner-up at the NCAA Championships, while Jarace Walker and Houston are in the Sweet 16 of March Madness.

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

Trinity Thomas’ trophy case continued its expansion over the weekend, as the University of Florida super-senior and former West York athlete repeated as the SEC’s all-around gymnastics champion and added two event titles at the conference meet.

The Gators captured the team title in front of a sellout crowd in Duluth, Ga., thanks to a meet-record total score of 198.425. Thomas captured the all-around crown with a 39.80 and posted the only two perfect 10.0 scores of the meet to win the floor exercise and uneven bars. 

Florida's Trinity Thomas competes on the uneven bars during an NCAA gymnastics meet against Georgia on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

Only seven gymnasts have won back-to-back SEC titles, with Thomas joining a club that includes three other Gators. She also became just the second competitor with multiple 10s at the SEC championships, joining Kentucky’s Jenny Hansen in 1994. Thomas’ perfect score on the uneven bars completed her second Season Slam, and she now has 27 perfect 10s in her career, tied for third all-time and one away from sharing the national record.

In addition to her wins on the floor and bars, Thomas recorded a 9.925 on the balance beam and a 9.875 on the vault, which she won alongside all-around and floor at last year’s SEC meet. The York native will finish her career with seven league titles, also winning on the vault in 2019.

On Monday, Florida was announced as the No. 2 seed for the NCAA Championships. The Gators will return to Thomas’ home state for Regionals in Pittsburgh from March 30-April 2. A top-two finish in the region will merit a return trip to nationals in Fort Worth, Texas, from April 13-15. Thomas, of course, is the reigning NCAA all-around, floor and bars champion.

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Penn State freshman wrestler Levi Haines, a Biglerville graduate, closed his brilliant season with a national runner-up finish in the 157-pound weight class over the weekend. The Big Ten champion advanced all the way to the finals before falling to North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor — an undefeated 24-year-old, sixth-year senior — in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

North Carolina's Austin O'Connor takes down Penn State's Levi Haines during the championship round of the NCAA Wrestling Championships 2023 at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. on Saturday, March 18, 2023.(Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP)

Haines helped lift the Nittany Lions to a runaway NCAA team championship, their 10th in 12 seasons, with his performance. Penn State mathematically clinched the title before Saturday’s evening session began, and its 137.5 points were well clear of second-place Iowa’s 82.5. Lion stars Carter Starocci (174) and Aaron Brooks (184) won individual championships for the third straight season, while Roman Bravo-Young was runner-up at 133 pounds after winning the previous two titles in the class. Junior Greg Kerkvliet (285) also reached the finals.

In a national field as old as ever due to post-pandemic extra eligibility, the 18-year-old Haines still stood out. That’s been the story of his season, as the blue-chip freshman wasn’t even a starter when the winter began but wrestled his way into a burned redshirt and never looked back. Haines finished the year with a 25-2 record, a Big Ten title and a No. 2 national ranking. He didn’t lose between a tournament in November and the NCAA final.

The former Biglerville star — Haines won 100 matches and a state title in three seasons with the Canners before competing in open college tournaments as a senior — opened his weekend with a 10-2 win over Lock Haven’s Ashton Eyler and an 8-3 decision against Wyoming’s Jacob Wright. He overcame a deficit by pinning Virginia Tech’s Bryce Andonian in the quarterfinals, which clinched All-American status. And he validated his Big Ten championship win against Nebraska’s Peyton Robb by prevailing again in a semifinal matchup by 5-3 decision. O’Connor finally slowed Haines with a 6-2 win.

It’s unclear whether Haines will remain in his current weight class or move up as his college career continues. There’s no question, though, that he’ll be a centerpiece for the program in the coming years and could become the latest in a long line of Nittany Lion national champions.


The lone York County connection to March Madness is still going strong, as New Freedom native Jarace Walker and the No. 1-seed Houston Cougars advanced to the Sweet 16 with a pair of wins in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Houston, the betting favorite to win the tournament, grinded out a 63-52 win over No. 16-seed Northern Kentucky on Thursday before ousting No. 9-seed Auburn, 81-64, on Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama. Both games were close into the second half before the Cougars pulled away, ultimately advancing to a Sweet 16 clash against No. 5 Miami next Friday in Kansas City.

Northern Kentucky forward Chris Brandon (21) pursues Houston forward Jarace Walker (25) as he drives to the basket in the second half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Birmingham, Ala., Thursday, March 16, 2023. Houston won 63-52. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Walker, the American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year and a projected NBA lottery pick, led Houston with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed six rebounds in Thursday’s win over the Norse. He added seven points, 10 boards and a whopping six blocks Saturday against the Tigers.

The Cougars’ main question mark entering the dance was the health of star guard Marcus Sasser, who missed the AAC final with a groin injury. Sasser aggravated the injury against Northern Kentucky and did not finish the game, but returned to score 22 points against Auburn. Trevon Mark led Houston with 26 points in that contest.Tipoff between the Cougars and Hurricanes is set for 7:15 p.m. Friday. Texas and Xavier, the second and third seeds in the West Region, will follow in the nightcap. The No. 2 Longhorns ended Penn State’s season Saturday with a 71-66 win in the Round of 32.