The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

March 2, 2014

Renfro fulfills early promise in first year

SPOKANE, Wash. — A year ago, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M didn’t even have a wrestling program.

Now, the Golden Norsemen are national champions.

NEO won the NJCAA National Tournament with 169 points on Saturday at Spokane, Wash. Northwest College (Wyoming) finished second with 149.

The Norsemen advanced four to the finals, and 174-pound sophomore Payne Hatter captured an individual national championship.

The Neosho High School graduate defeated Colby Community College’s Jared Johnson 6-3 in the finals.

The team championship capped a great return for the NEO wrestling program. In October 2012, NEO announced it was going to resurrect the program, which had previously competed from 1975-1993. At that time, Northeastern Oklahoma also announced plans for a $1.3 million wrestling facility and introduced Joe Renfro as its head coach.

Renfro, a former All-American at Labette Community College and Nebraska-Kearney, directed Labette to three national championships in his time as coach.

On the day he was introduced as the NEO coach, Renfro already had bold predictions for the Norsemen.

“As soon as we win a national title this year (in Labette), then I will get down here, and we’re going to win one for the 2013-14 season,” Renfro said to a group of NEO supporters in October 2012.

Renfro lived up to his prediction, leading Labette to its second straight title and now winning one at Northeastern Oklahoma.

Nine Labette wrestlers, including Hatter, transferred to NEO.

Hatter was the Norsemen’s lone individual champ, while Josh Walker (125), Michael Williams (141) and Zack Dobbins (149) each finished second.

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