Winning championships is nothing new to former Neosho High School grappler Payne Hatter.

MIAMI, Okla. — Winning championships is nothing new to former Neosho High School grappler Payne Hatter.

A member of the 2010 and 2011 Class 3 state champion Wildcats, Hatter was a member of the 2012 NJCAA National Champions at Labette Community College in his redshirt season, then won another national title with the Cardinal in 2012 as a redshirt freshman. Now, as a sophomore at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Hatter was again part of a national championship team, his third in as many years.

Only this time was a bit different. After going 4-2 and taking fourth at the NJCAA National Tournament a year ago at Labette, Hatter picked up his first individual national championship by winning the 174-pound class for the Golden Norsemen in Spokane, Wash., over the weekend. It was a crowning moment for the 6-footer. In high school he finished fifth in state as a junior and took third as a senior.

“It was awesome,” Hatter said of the feeling he got after winning the national championship. “I’ve never been able to be in that position. Finally I was, and I was successful. Sometimes you come up short like I did in high school, but it makes you hungry to get success. My freshman year (at Labette) I finished fourth and that made me even hungrier to get a national title.”

Hatter went 31-5 this season while helping the Golden Norsemen, who returned to wrestling this season for the first time in 20 years under head coach Joe Renfro, defeat Northwest College (Wyo.) 169-149 for the team title. Calling him one of the best coaches he’s ever had, Hatter said he and most of his teammates from Labette didn’t hesitate to ask for their release in order to follow Renfro — who recruited Hatter and led the Cardinal to the last two national titles — to NEO.

“They were really cool about it,” Hatter said of Labette letting him transfer. “They signed the papers and everything and were real helpful. Coach was moving over there and I had to follow him because he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. We all felt like it would help us win a national title.”
It did.

Hatter, who won a 6-3 decision over Jared Johnson of Colby, Kan., in the finals, returned home the lone individual champion for the Golden Norsemen. Despite being so far from home and wrestling on the big stage, he said he approached the NJCAA National Tournament just like he would any other.

“It sucked traveling,” Hatter said. “But it’s the same with all the other tournaments; you just have to show up and wrestle.”

With plans of attending a four-year school next season, Hatter, who says he has a few visits already lined up, hasn’t come close to making a decision which singlet he’ll wear next season. Wherever he goes, he knows he’ll be prepared.

“Wrestling at Neosho always made me feel like I needed to work hard to get where I’m going,” he said.
After two team state titles in high school, three national team titles in college and one individual national title, you can bet he’ll look to recapture that feeling at his next stop.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” he said.

Hatter wasn’t the only former Wildcat to make some noise at the collegiate level this weekend. His former teammate at NHS, Blake Stauffer took third place at the Pac-12 Wrestling Championships in Stanford, Calif.

Stauffer, who took second place a year ago and was the top-seed at 184 pounds this season, received a bye in the first round before scoring a major decision over Stanford’s Zach Nevills in the semifinals.

Moving on to the finals, Stauffer lost a hard-fought decision with Boise State’s Jake Swartz, the No. 2-seed, 3-2. That dropped Stauffer to the second place match, where he lost a 5-2 decision to Austin Morehead of Oregon State to finish third. The win gave Morehead an automatic berth into the NCAA Championships.

Another pair of former state champions at NHS, Dallas Smith and Nate Rodriguez wrestled well for Ouachita Baptist University at the Division II Super Regional in Edmond, Okla., this weekend to advance to the Division II Championships in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 14-15.

Ranked fifth and seeded second at 133 pounds, Rodriguez, a true freshman at OBU, won his first match by pinning Tanner Milles (Mankato) in 2:44, scored a 5-0 decision over Matt Katusin (Lindenwood) in his second bout and pinned Matt Paulus (Upper Iowa) in the semifinals. He suffered his only loss in the finals in a tough 6-4 decision to Daniel DeShazer (Nebraska Kearny) to take second. A 2013 NHS graduate, Rodriguez is the only four-time state finalist in Neosho wrestling history.

Ranked fourth and seeded third at 185 pounds, Smith, an All-American junior, finished in third place to advance to Cleveland. He won by fall over Matt Fetterley (Minot State) at the 1:22 mark in his first match, lost a 7-1 decision to Mark Fiala (Nebraska Kearney) in the quarterfinals, bounced back with an 8-0 major decision over Scott VanDeLoo (Mankato) in his third match and scored a 7-0 decision over Matthew Lewellen (Moorehead) in the consolation bracket.

That moved him to the consolation semifinals, where he defeated top-seeded Sean Derry (Augustana), 7-0. He then defeated John McArdle (Lindenwood) in a 12-9 decision in the third-place match. His trip to the National Tournament will be his third in as many years.

Another 2013 NHS graduate, Montana Drum, put together a fine season as a true freshman at Missouri Baptist University, where she immediately made her mark as one of the top wrestlers on women’s team. Drum wrestled so well, in fact, that she achieved All-American status after placing fifth at the WCWA National Championships in St. Louis, Mo.