During a slump the Northern Colorado Bears couldn’t seem to escape, women’s basketball coach Jenny Huth asked the player jokingly called “Grandma” to paint the big picture.
Palmer Ridge grad Ali Meyer was 23 and about to get her master’s degree, nearly six years older than some of her teammates. She’d transferred and then dislocated both kneecaps while at UNC. And those are just the more recent chapters in an ongoing story of perseverance.
“I just had her talk about some of the hardships she’s been through,” Huth said.
“We all care about winning and losing. That’s why we’re here. At the same time, we need to keep things in perspective.”
Meyer came close to total brain death at 10 years old. The last thing she remembers, she was eating homemade peach ice cream at her grandparents’ ranch. She told her family she didn’t feel well and was going to bed.
She wasn’t conscious for the harrowing Flight for Life transportation to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs after a CAT scan revealed a colloid cyst. They generally present in patients over 30. In another example of long odds, the top neurosurgeon in the state was near her Monument home.
She still has a scrapbook put together during her time in the ICU.
“The fact that I was able to play college basketball and get my master’s is a testament to God’s plan,” Meyer said.
“Having (faith) as my foundation really anchored me and made me super grateful for each and every day I was given.”
She went on to play soccer and basketball at Palmer Ridge. As a junior she led the team in points (13.5) and rebounds (11.9) per game and was the 2013 5A-4A Gazette Peak Performer of the Year. Palmer Ridge made it to the final eight her senior year under Dennis Coates.
Both of her parents played soccer in college. Her father, Greg, was a goalkeeper and UCCS’ first All-American in 1997. But Ali narrowed her focus to basketball and picked Colorado Christian for college.
Before leaving for Lakewood, she went back to see the surgeon that saved her life and monitored her progress through checkups, chastising her for taking headers in soccer games.
“Ali, you’re in remission, I will never see you again for this. Go live your life,’” Meyer recalled him saying. She and her mother jumped up and down and cried outside his office.
“That was such a great day.”
Her college career started well as CCU won the RMAC Championship and she was named second-team all-conference. A coaching change midway through her sophomore year led to the decision to transfer. She wasn’t allowed to look within the RMAC, narrowing her in-state choices.
Meyer had led her team with 13 points and 10 rebounds as Div. II CCU beat Div. I UNC in a preseason game in 2015. Meyer emailed coach Kamie Ethridge to see if she remembered her. She certainly did and invited her to Greeley.
Kneecap issues had plagued her since high school and she used her transfer year to have surgery on the right one. Six months of rehab later and three days out from the start of her third season, the left one dislocated.
She said she came out of anesthesia and cried for three days straight, wondering whether her career was over.
“But I also came out of it, once I settled down, with this determination like, ‘I will play some games at UNC. Come hell or high water, I’m gonna do whatever it takes to step on the basketball court in that uniform,’” Meyer said. “Just because it was my dream to play Division I basketball.”
Huth was hired before the start of the 2018-19 season, when Meyer was coming off her second knee surgery. She could tell the center still had a burning desire to play, stoked by two years away.
“I could just tell,” Huth said. “Some people just have that innate desire and I think Ali had that.”
Meyer said her knees felt good so she threw herself into her favorite parts of the game — rebounding and defense. Huth said she was all over the gym, looking like “a caged animal.”
“I don’t think you’d expect someone having gone through that to turn around and do the dirtiest job on the floor,” Meyer said.
“I was like, every single basketball is mine. … Take what I want, and that’s what I wanted.”
Meyer started all 32 games in 2018-19 and set a program record with 348 rebounds, good for first in the conference, as UNC went 21-11. She earned third-team All-Big Sky honors.
Meyers’ final season of eligibility was a young one and a lean one comparatively. The freshman-heavy Bears finished 13-18. They were eliminated from the Big Sky Tournament by top-seeded Montana State just before the rest of the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus, giving Meyer the closure many college athletes missed out on.
Huth said that’s not the end of “grandma’s” contributions.
“I think that she’s planted seeds into this program that will last for a long time,” Huth said. “She was really instrumental in their growth and I think they’ll remember that.”
Meyer graduated with her master’s in communications on Friday and has taken on an executive director role for her family’s ministry at Fish and Cross Ranch in Yampa. She’s resting her knees as much as one can while sharing a household with a sports-crazy little brother and planning her September wedding.
“I really think God has orchestrated things in my life,” Meyer said. “Wouldn’t literally be where I am without Him honestly saving my life.”