SHERIDAN — Sheridan’s Hayden Hastings may not see much mat time during his first collegiate year of wrestling, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t competing and improving. In fact, the former Sheridan High School standout is humbled a little bit more each and every day.
“The biggest adaptation I think for him is going from a wrestling room where he was dominant to a practice room where he’s really struggling day in and day out,” University of Wyoming head wrestling coach Mark Branch said. “… Sometimes it’s hard on those guys. It’s a little bit hard on their ego and a little bit hard on their pride.”
Hastings will redshirt his inaugural season at UW. Hastings enjoyed a celebratory high school career that saw him win a Wyoming state title three times and earn All-American honors with a fourth-place finish at the NHSCA High School Nationals.
But now as a colligate grappler, Hastings trains with Brandon Ashworth and Archie Colgan, two nationally ranked wrestlers. According to InterMatWrestling.com, Ashworth boasts the No. 12 ranking in the 165-pound weight class, and Colgan lays claim to the 20th spot among 157-pounders.
“Not too many other guys can say they’re wrestling that caliber of guy every day,” Hastings said. “…The experience I’m getting from those guys is huge.
“I’ve learned a different mentality from them. In high school, I could get in on a leg and not do much. But here, I have to have a mentality, have a stubbornness and have a different speed to be able take down these high-level guys.”
Hastings, unlike in many other collegiate sports, still gets a chance to compete in tournaments while retaining his redshirt. Hastings participated in the annual Cowboy Open — a large wrestling tournament held in UW’s indoor practice facility during the first weekend of November — and showed quite well as he won all four of his bouts.
“I was pretty nervous for my first match,” Hastings said. “But as the day went on, I loosened up and things started flowing more. I really enjoyed wrestling that tournament.”
Branch has been thoroughly impressed by Hastings’ skill set, dating back to Hastings’ high school days. Branch remembers the former Bronc being more than half a step better than his competition in the high school ranks — something that’s somewhat easier in the country’s least populated state. However, it’s precisely those Wyoming roots that gives Hastings a trait Branch can’t teach.
“Wyoming kids take a lot of pride in this state, and they take a lot of pride in this university,” Branch said. “That’s something that’s hard to coach, and that has a lot of value. We don’t have a ton of Wyoming kids on our roster, but the ones that we do wrestle with a little bit extra it feels like.
“They are at UW not only because of their work ethic, not only because of a scholarship and not only because maybe we were their best offer, but they’re here because they want to be here,” Branch added. “They grow up and this is the school they loved, and that goes a long ways.”
That Wyoming pride carried one of its own to the pinnacle of the wrestling world. Bryce Meredith — who hails from Cheyenne and is currently a senior on UW’s wrestling team — came within one point of winning a national championship just two years ago.
Meredith provides tangible proof that it doesn’t matter where someone comes from. Anyone with the drive and work ethic can accomplish the highest of highs. Meredith’s presence alone is motivation to everyone on UW’s roster, especially someone with Wyoming roots.
“He has been a real role model,” Hastings said. “Just seeing a kid from Cheyenne, Wyoming, do what he did makes you think, ‘Why can’t I do it?’
“He’s just a down-to-earth guy and really focused. You don’t really have to talk with him a lot to see he has a lot of drive and passion, and it just kind of rubs off on you.”
Hastings will get his chance in the next few years to set lofty goals and chase dreams of going to the NCAA Championships. Branch hopes to keep the redshirt on Hastings for the remainder of the 2017-18 season, and not only does the Wyoming coach see potential in Hastings, but also significant value. Branch fully anticipates Hastings breaking into the Cowboys’ lineup next season at either the 165 or 174 weight class.
Hastings got a small taste of what a day in the starting lineup might feel like when he and some of his teammates attended Wyoming’s dual against No. 13 Nebraska in Lincoln.
“Going to the Nebraska dual and watching, I got really excited and I wasn’t even wrestling,” Hastings said. “I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I was starting.”
Hastings will know for sure soon enough.