A vast array of thoughts were coursing through Hayden Hastings mind after the Big 12 tournament. The University of Wyoming redshirt freshman wrestler felt disappointment on how he finished, anger with the mindset with which he wrestled his last few matches and nervousness in not knowing if he’d earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The former Sheridan Bronc had to tango with all those feelings for about 36 hours prior to the announcement of at-large bids last week. Alas, Hastings received confirmation that his sixth-place finish at conference — coupled with a regular-season resume that included 25 wins and three of those wins over top-20 foes — warranted an at-large bid.
“I kind of figured I had a decent shot of getting one just based on how I performed throughout the season,” Hastings said. “… When the news came, I was pretty excited.”
His hometown was, too. Former coaches and Sheridanites have reached out to Hastings, congratulating him and wishing him good luck.
That’s luck Hastings will take with him to Pittsburgh beginning Thursday.
The three-time state champion at Sheridan is not just going to nationals with the mindset of gaining more valuable experience. He’s going there to contend.
“I still think there’s work to be done,” Hastings said. “I’m stepping in there to win the tournament, so I’m not backing down from anything.”
While Hastings is currently riding an emotional high, his freshman campaign has seen its fair share of adversity.
Hastings won the starting job at 174 early in the season, but a couple different factors had him off the mat at different points in the year.
He battled a skin fungus that forced him out of action for a couple duals. UW head coach Mark Branch also tried Casey Randles out at 174 before Hastings won his starting spot back at the South Beach Duals in late December.
Branch toyed with the starting rotation a couple more times in January and February, but he assured Hastings that he was his top guy at 174 and one that Branch would look to for points at the conference tournament.
“He has shown a lot of improvement, especially with cleaning up some of his sloppiness,” Branch said. “The other thing I’ve seen with Hayden is he’s really felt more comfortable the last month of opening his offense and having confidence in his offense on his feet. Those things bode well.”
Hastings showcased that confidence in the first couple rounds of the conference tournament. Hastings, the No. 6 seed, advanced to the semifinals, which included an upset over the No. 4 seed.
But with one win standing in the way of Hastings and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, he changed his approach, and it didn’t work.
“I wasn’t wrestling to win, but, more or less, wrestling not to lose,” Hastings said. “I knew I had to win one match to qualify, and I didn’t wrestle as aggressively as I could have, and it cost me.”
Hastings dropped his last three matches of the Big 12 tournament to place sixth. Even though that wasn’t the ending to conference the redshirt freshman envisioned, he and his coaches believe he’s peaking at the right time.
Hastings — who’s seeded No. 25 at nationals— joins six other Pokes at the NCAA tournament, which marks the most in Branch’s career at UW. Hastings will enjoy the trip to Pittsburgh — his first — but he’s not just there to experience it. The former Sheridan Bronc wants to win, advance and place the 174-pound weight class on notice.