LARAMIE — A quarter of the way through his freshman year at North Carolina State, Bryce Meredith realized he was in the wrong weight class.
“I kind of lost my happiness at 133 (pounds),” said Meredith, now a senior at Wyoming. “It’s not a secret that if you’re not eating and drinking, you’re not a very happy person. Like, people miss a meal and they get angry. So, think about cutting 20 pounds to 133.
“It was way too much. It just about killed me. It made me almost want to quit the sport. So for me to go up, it was almost (like) I had to do it. Without it, I don’t know if I’d still be wrestling, honestly.”
Clearly, the decision to move to 141 pounds was a good one. In his first season there, and his first as a Cowboy, Meredith was a national runner-up. This season, he earned Wyoming’s first individual Big 12 championship and was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the conference tournament. He enters this week’s NCAA Championships as the weight class’s top seed.
But while 141 has proven to be a good fit for Meredith, the Cheyenne native did not choose the easiest peer group. In that 2016 championship match, he fell to Dean Heil, a then-sophomore at Oklahoma State who also won the national title in 2017. Meredith’s hopes of a championship as a junior were halted by Kevin Jack, a North Carolina State junior and former teammate of Meredith. Both those competitors will hope to deny Meredith his first national championship this week in Cleveland.
“His sophomore year when he was in the finals, all those guys were young,” Wyoming head wrestling coach Mark Branch said. “You just knew that there was going to be a long-running history of those guys competing against each other. So it’s been good. I don’t know that he needed it. He’s a motivated guy. He’s not going to come into practice and waste days. But at the same time, he knows he can’t afford to.”
And those aren’t even the only 141-pounders Meredith has to worry about. Missouri sophomore Jaydin Eierman, Cornell freshman Yianni Diakomihalis and Ohio State junior Joey McKenna all sit between No. 1 Meredith and Jack and Heil (Nos. 5 and 6, respectively).
“There’s always new, young guys that are coming up,” Branch said. “But I think when you’re young, it’s easy to think that as you mature and you become an upperclassman, a junior, a senior, that you’ll kind of advance in your weight class. But with (Heil and Jack) all kind of being the same age, he knew that, ‘I’m not going to outgrow this. I have to keep growing. I have to keep progressing and getting better.’ So that’s been easy for him to stay motivated and to keep training the way he has.”
Meredith’s season began with an exhibition loss to Jack, and Diakomihalis handed Meredith his first and only regular-season loss at the Cliff Keen Invite. But Meredith later defeated Eierman and Jack at the Reno Tournament of Champions. Meredith also beat Heil in a dual setting, ending his 55-match winning streak. Heil has lost four times since, including to Meredith in the championship match at the Big 12 Championship.
“That goes to show how scary this weight class is,” Meredith said. “March is crazy for basketball. It’s just as crazy for wrestling.”
“That just shows that there’s three, four different dudes who are all capable of getting the first-place spot,” said Wyoming 157-pounder Archie Colgan, who also picked up a Big 12 title. “So, yeah, (141 pounds) is tough. Most weight classes, you have like a guy or two. There’s always dark horses who can come out and win, but you always have that guy or two that’s the dominant guy. But this weight class is just like a toss-up. You don’t really know. That’s really exciting for them, going into that tournament.”
But Meredith doesn’t view the long list of potential champions at 141 pounds as a negative. Just the opposite, in fact.
“I just love being a fan of it, and to be involved in it is crazy,” he said. “It’s like I get to be at the top of the weight, and I get to watch the weight as a fan. So it’s really fun being involved with it. I wouldn’t want to be in any other weight class, honestly. Of course, sometimes I wish I could be more top dog at times, but those one-point matches are what have got me here so far, and that’s what’s going to take me to the top ultimately at the end.”