The practice and preparation to give oneself every edge possible, the sheer adrenaline of competition and the elation following a victory. All of these characteristics get wrapped into one entity — sports.
Sports can unite countries, states and towns. Whether it’s the World Cup bringing together entire nations on a worldwide stage or small-town state champions parading down Main Street on fire trucks and flatbeds, sports can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on everyday life.
But sometimes sports can rip your heart out of your chest and step on it 50,000 times before kicking it to the side. That’s what it felt like Saturday night during the NCAA wrestling championships.
Senior Bryce Meredith had one final opportunity to claim a national title. He had one last chance to give the University of Wyoming, and an entire state, something to rejoice over.
Meredith held serve as the top seed of the NCAA Championships for all but 20 seconds leading up to the finals. He breezed through the opening rounds, barely breaking a sweat. He held on for a 1-0 win in the semifinals, and the stage was set for the greatest final act an athlete can hope for — going out on top.
And for nearly the entire national championship bout, it looked as though Wyoming was going to have its first national champion since Dick Ballinger in 1960.
And then, in the blink of an eye, a split second, it flipped … literally.
Meredith held a 4-3 lead over No. 3-seeded Yianni Diakomihalis with just over 20 seconds remaining in the third and final round of the 141-pound bout. All Meredith had to do was hold on.
But the Cornell freshman flipped Meredith, cradled him for a moment and in one lightening-fast move gained a 7-4 advantage. The seemingly imminent joy for UW fans evaporated quicker than a prairie fire with a tail wind.
That wasn’t how it was supposed to end for one of the most decorated Wyoming athletes ever. That wasn’t the conclusion the Cheyenne native deserved.
Meredith spurned UW and his home state when he elected to take his talents to NC State out of high school. He wanted to compete for a well-known program and experience something completely different.
But Meredith’s love for the wide open spaces and the Rocky Mountains snuck back into his veins, and after just one season out East, the standout returned home.
He came back to his roots and thrived on the wrestling mat.
Meredith had an improbable run to the national championship bout as a sophomore only to come up just short against Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil.
Meredith earned his way to the top of the 141-pound rankings early during his senior campaign and remained there the entire season.
He finally beat his archnemesis Heil — not once but twice — and he ascended to the top of the podium at conference, claiming UW’s first individual Big 12 championship.
Why did this magical season end like it did Saturday night? Where was the ounce of indescribable magic that weaves its way into some of the finest sports moments?
Sports gave one of the smallest and most passionate fan bases a knight, Meredith, poised to give his faithful followers something to brag about.
And Saturday, sports gave a proud Wyoming son, and an entire state, utter heartache.