Inside the Rivalry Chapter 5: Seth Noble (Columbus Junction) vs. Tanner Hiatt (Ballard) 2009-2010

By Joshua Swafford for The Predicament

We all know of that game, "chicken" that is played on the road between two vehicles.  It is a game in which two drivers drive towards each other in the same lane, on a collision course in which one must swerve, or both may die in the crash due to colliding with each other.  The driver who swerves is the "chicken" of the game, meaning a coward. In other words, the chicken loses. Now, I've never heard of a case where the drivers of both cars playing "chicken" resulted in someone not eventually swerving away, but I am sure that two people have been stubborn, confident and strong-willed to the point where it has happened before... And I assume the result was a chaotic collision with debris from the vehicle flying everywhere resulting in the vehicles being mangled and the presumed deaths of the drivers.

Now, while I haven't ever heard of a case where a collision actually took place in a game of "chicken," if you were to apply the same principles of this game (two people on a collision course to prove who is the most strong-willed, confident, refusing to dodge each other, courageous and in turn, winner) to wrestling, then I have seen a collision fully take place several times. Usually when you have two returning state champs or two elite guys at the same weight, for whatever reason it usually seems like one guy ends up dodging the other and it's frustrating. However, every once in a while, there will be two strong-willed, fearless competitors who claim their spot and don't budge regardless of what's on the line or who is in the way. When this happens, wrestling fans are in for a treat.  With that said, when you think of situations such as these, one of the first matchups that comes to mind is Tanner Hiatt of Ballard and Seth Noble of Columbus Jct. Noble and Hiatt collided twice and chaos ensued on the mat in terms of how hard they fought and pushed each other and in turn, provided the wrestling spectators in attendance with a tremendous amount of entertainment value. In the words of Tanner Hiatt regarding his anticipated match with Seth in 2010: I would never run from anyone. I was excited to wrestle someone as good as Seth so we could give the fans a show!

The first collision between Noble and Hiatt took place in the year 2009. This was a year where Hiatt's school, Ballard, not only won the team race, but set the scoring record for the 2nd straight year with a deep lineup that included guys like Tanner and TJ Hiatt, Dakota Bauer, Willie Miklus, Tyler Grask, Tanner, Trent and Brock Weatherman and Chris Schaudt who all made the awards stand with Tanner Hiatt, Dakota Bauer and all three Weatherman brothers taking 1st place. The school that Seth Noble wrestled for, Columbus Jct. did not have a bad showing themselves, earning 5th place in the team race. Hiatt vs. Ballard was a battle between a wrestler from the current powerhouse (Hiatt-Ballard) and a wrestler from a school who was from a powerhouse a decade earlier (Noble-CJ). Columbus Junction won either traditional state or state duals 5 years in a row, from 1995-1999. Ballard was on an even more dominating run in 2009.

Before getting to the intricities of the Noble-Hiatt collision course, let's start out with some background information about both wrestlers.

Tanner Hiatt was a 2011 graduate from Ballard who finished 2nd, 1st, 3rd and 2nd at state. He finished his career with a record of 188-8, with five of those losses being his freshman year at one tournament...the notoriously tough tournament in Minnesota called The Clash, which reels in some of the Midwest's top wrestling schools and in turn, some of the nation's best wrestlers. Your wrestling team has to be very good to even be invited there. Therefore, if a team is invited to wrestle in that tournament, it's a huge pat on the back for that team. Take away that tournament his freshman year and Hiatt finishes his career with a record of 188-3, all 3 losses at state.

Hiatt has a brother, who was also a very accomplished wrestler for Ballard named T.J. Tanner Hiatt was successful early on in his wrestling career, for he won AAU state a handful of times as well as USA Nationals as an 8th grader. He went on to wrestle for Doug Schwab at UNI, where he was a teammate of Noble's.

When Tanner was asked about his most influential coaches, he had great things to say about them.

Tanner Hiatt:  "Jeff Weatherman was one of the two most influential coaches for me. He was our head coach at Ballard. He kept me on track and just let me do my thing and would guide me back on track if I was screwing off. I was also heavily influenced by Nick Britton aka British. He was my corner coach for my four years in high school. He really accelerated my learning of the sport and I developed much higher skills because of him. He taught me how to do the little things perfect and keep the flashy stuff for a last ditch effort."

Tanner obviously acknowledges his team as being very competitive, but stated humorously that their warm-up dodgeball games were probably even more competitive. Tanner's most influential wrestler to him is Dan Gable and his favorite current HS wrestler is Ballard standout, Skyler Noftsger, a senior this year who placed 2nd as a sophomore and 4th as a junior, so he is still very supportive of Ballard wrestling.  Along with wrestling, Hiatt also played football and ran track a couple years. He is an avid Boston Bruins fan and loves to hunt, fish and do anything outdoors.  Tanner worked very hard at wresting. He stated,  "The amount of talent in the room was so great if you didn’t you were scared you would be left behind. So you had to go hard all the time. I wrestled almost all year, took a couple months off for other sports."  When asked to describe his own style, Tanner described it as, "In your face go, go, go was a pretty mean wrestler also. Not in a hurt you way, just mean if that makes any sense."  Everyone considered him a very fun wrestler to watch. Seemed flawless at times.

Tanner's favorite wrestling accomplishment was being part of the Ballard team that not only won state, but reset the points scored record and sent nine guys to the finals with five champs.  His most painful wrestling experience was when he lost at the tail end of his finals match his senior year against Brody Grothus from Assumption due to a "stupid mistake" that he made that resulted in the outcome. His greatest individual wrestling accomplishment was when he won the prestigious Fargo national wrestling tournament in Greco.

Noble was pretty successful as a youth wrestler. He was a perennial AAU state place winner.  Noble considered youth wrestling a pre-requisite or something that was simply necessary for development to become a successful high school wrestler. Growing up he had several battles with Louisa Muscatine standout, Brode Hills.  He considers both high school state titles to be the high points of his career. He always hated to lose. And with that said, he considers every loss he took in high school to be his low point, but stated that the loss in the semis his freshman season stung worse than the loss in the finals to Hiatt. He describes the loss to Hiatt as easier to move on from and a valuable learning experience.

Noble was on some decent squads at Columbus Jct.  He describes those squads as “not as good as Denver, Creston or Ballard at the time, but had solid individuals that contributed to helping Columbus earn very respectable results.” He credits his HS head coach, Bill Plein for this consistency. He considers Doug Schwab and Bill Plein to be the coaches who had the most impact on his career.

Noble had some very interesting, heartfelt things to say about Plein and the respect he has for him. He has an immense amount of respect for Plein. Everyone knows Plein is a good, accomplished coach, but those who haven't been coached by him may wonder what makes him that way? Noble provided a lot of insight as to what makes the future HOF coach, Bill Plein, the success that he is.

Seth Noble: "Coach Plein was the best technician coach I’ve ever been around up until college. He could always find what one of his wrestlers was good at naturally or what the kid liked to do, and could build off it. He would cater to his wrestlers' strengths. Whether in neutral or on the mat. He could also go the other way and watch opposing kids and teach his kids how to take the opponents best moves away from them. Whether that’d be circling a certain direction and not the other, keep one lead leg forward and not the other, to tie up his hands and which tie to go about doing that so you could still hit your offense. Or to avoid certain positions altogether. Plein always had a game plan going into every dual, and every individual matchup within those duals. He was like the Tony Larussa of high school wrestling. He just had a way of taking any caliber of kid and taking them up one more notch or more. We were never out-conditioned. Nobody was ever in better shape than us. When we got to big matches in the post season, we never lost because they were in better shape than us. And we’ve beaten many kids simply because we were in better shape than them. And we got to be in that great of shape because we believed in him. He could motivate us to push ourselves further and harder every single night. Everyone is different and everyone needs to be motivated a different way and he found those and used those motivational tactics. We knew if we did what he told us, we were going to have a good chance of winning. We knew we were prepared with him. The rest was on us. And thinking back on it, I can’t ever think of a single time, during season or out of season, that if any of his wrestlers wanted something or needed something, whether it be some one on one drills, or to watch over and help with a drill session with another kid, or help getting weight off for a summer competition, he was always there for you, regardless of your talent level.  Always just a phone call or text away. He put in more time and dedication than all of his wrestlers combined. And the man lived in Mepo, taught at Wapello, and coached in CJ. I remember him staying after practices to help some of my buddies with homework before grades came out to help keep them eligible. And he wasn’t doing it just for the sole purpose to keep them eligible to help our wrestling team, he was doing it cause he knew if some of these kids didn’t stay eligible for the sport, they might not have stayed in school, and might not have been as successful men as they are now. And I know some of those kids today are still thankful we were lucky enough to have a guy like that to coach us and teach us. And that’s what separates coach Plein from the rest. I’ve been around a while in this sport and been to many different rooms and he’s the best I’ve ever been around."

So let’s get to the Noble-Hiatt collision course.

It’s 2009 and the state wrestling finals are set. Ballard was cleaning house and were looking to continue doing so in the finals, for they had nine guys wrestling in the finals. One of these guys was Tanner Hiatt, who was set to face returning state champ, Seth Noble in the finals in the 2A 140 lb. division. This was a highly anticipated matchup with the Junior, Noble being the returning state champ and Hiatt being a Sophomore who got 2nd at state as a Freshman along with winning Fargo nationals in Greco. This match was the beginning of a two year state wrestling collision course between the two of them.

Tanner Hiatt: "I wrestled him my sophomore and junior year. We ended up being teammates at UNI and were friends. We have a mutual respect for each other on and off the mat. He was just a solid wrestler all round not really any weakness. I won Fargo earlier that year in Greco and he did a great job of not letting me anywhere close to those tie ups."

Seth Noble: "I have a lot of respect for Tanner Hiatt, was a real tough kid, and a tough wrestler. We went on to be teammates after high school where we both endured shoulder injuries."

Coming into the match, both wrestlers were confident. And they knew who they were up against and had done their homework, but they both knew that wrestling tough competition like each other was just part of the job.

Tanner Hiatt:  "I was very confident going into both matches although I knew he was very good. I was nervous in a good way especially since our matches took place at the state tournament. I was just thinking, “well, let's put on a show.”  I did not know a ton about him, but knew that he had pinned a teammate of mine at the state tournament the year before. I didn’t tend to look into other wrestlers. I just worried about what I was going to do. I knew he was tough as hell though."

Seth Noble: "Coming into the first match, I knew he was a tough kid and was going to fight for everything the whole match, watched him his freshman year get 2nd to Leith from Creston, and that was a good battle, then the next week he avenged that loss to him at the State Duals. I knew he won a Greco title at Fargo, too, so that gave me an idea as to how his style of wrestling was. I knew it was going to be a battle, but I was confident. Being at that stage and facing the level of competition you are facing, if you are not confident going into the match, then you've already lost it. So, I assume we were both fairly confident going into each match. But anytime you are at that stage and facing that level of competition, you are going to have to battle some nerves as well. But that's all part of the job. You have to use nerves as fuel and energy and not let them interfere with your strength and energy."

In the finals match of 2009, Tanner Hiatt was the victor. He won 5-4 in a wild match that consisted of a surprising turn of events in the final 7 seconds of the match. With 7 seconds left, Noble was leading 4-2 and riding when he tried to sneak a leg in, but then gave up an escape. When they got to their feet, Noble tripped backwards and Hiatt immediately and instinctively caught on to this and shot in to Noble’s legs and finished with a take down right as time ran out. It was a fantastic display of mat sense and grit shown by Hiatt. Hiatt was awarded 1 point for the escape and 2 points for the takedown to win the match 5-4.

Tanner Hiatt:  "The finals match was the closest match we wrestled. I did not have a game plan coming in. I just went out and tried to wrestle my match. Harder said than done when you have a tough SOB across from you, though. I felt great after winning that finals match."

Seth Noble: "He won the first bout 5-4 in the 2009 state finals. This loss upset me, but I was able to move on from it and prepare for my Senior season. It didn’t upset me as badly as my semifinal match to Hilmer my Freshman year did."

The finals match between Hiatt and Noble became a hot topic amongst wrestling fans. The dramatic turn of events that concluded the match and the obvious astronomical amount of talent and skills that both wrestlers possessed were a perfect concoction for heated discussion and debate for the next following year. Not to mention, Noble was on a long, dominant run that lasted two years and ended with the loss to Hiatt. The common topics generally discussed amongst fans were: “who will win if they meet up next year?” and “will they dodge each other to be assured a state title and who will dodge who?” When it became public knowledge that both were going to the same weight the following year, the debate as to who would win escalated and to most spectators, a perceived rivalry was formed.  In fact, since I started taking requests for these articles, Noble vs. Hiatt has been the most requested rivalry to write one of these on. However, not everybody considered them to be rivals. Most notably Hiatt and Noble themselves.

Tanner Hiatt: "I did not really think of it as a rivalry. I am sure he did not either. It was just another match we both had to win to accomplish our goals. Just turns out we were at the same weight two years in a row."

Seth Noble: "As far as the rivalry goes, I didn’t consider him one as much as I considered him to be a tough opponent. We only wrestled twice. Our matches just so happened to be very hard fought matches and at big stages in the state tournament."

When the 2010 wrestling season finally arrived, wrestling fans were excited to see that both Noble and Hiatt were going to be at 2A 140 again. A rematch seemed all, but inevitable. It was just a matter of which round they would meet. There was an abundance of skepticism amongst some fans that both wrestlers would actually stay there. Several fans made claims about one or the other struggling with their weight and what not. The rumor mill was always active with this anticipated matchup. Several people expected one of the two to bail out eventually before the start of the postseason. But they didn’t. Doing that likely wasn’t even a thought to either of them. If this were a game of “wrestling chicken,” these two were assured to have a full-fledged collision. Both of them had performed flawlessly over the course of the season coming into the state tournament. They lived a long ways from each other and were witnessed by different people throughout the course of the year. People who had seen Hiatt wrestle that year stated that he looked unbeatable and that Noble didn’t stand a chance. People who saw Noble wrestle that year made the same claims about him. This initiated heated debates amongst wrestling fans at tournaments, forums, bars, etc. regarding the highly anticipated matchup. People felt so confident in their stances regarding the matchup, that sometimes the debates could turn somewhat ugly and message board flame wars would ensue. 

Tanner Hiatt: "Most wrestlers try and run from the tough wrestlers so they have a better chance of winning. Not Noble and I. We were there to put on a show. Either one of us could have went a different weight but we both like to compete. Does it really count also if you run away and win?"

Seth Noble: "The thought of moving weights didn’t occur to me. When I decided 140 was the weight I needed to be at, I declared it mine. And no one was going to change that. Running from someone would be like sacrificing my dignity. And to think that there were fans who thought either Tanner or myself would do that obviously doesn’t know us as competitors. I’ve seen people run from competition before, and I immediately lose respect for them and what they accomplish in the safe space they ran to. Also, while I was glad to have another shot at Tanner, I wasn’t chasing him either. I just decided 140 was my weight and he just happened to be there again."

When the brackets were released, it was made official that Noble and Hiatt were on the same half of the bracket and it was assumed that they would meet in the semifinals. This did happen. When the two wrestlers took the mat against each other and started grappling, the crowd reaction was mixed. The crowd seemed 50/50 in terms of who they were rooting for and 90% of those in attendance were watching them. Hiatt had the Ballard mob cheering for him as well as some of the fans he had accumulated due to having a charismatic athletic wrestling style and respectful, but all business demeanor. He was a likable wrestler to the general spectator and the same can be said about Noble, who was a technical genius with no apparent weaknesses. Noble had all of Southeast Iowa rooting for him as well as those who hated Ballard at the time for no reason other than because Ballard was winning everything back then. They were a classy crew. Wells was loud from the moment these two stepped on the mat. Hiatt started out the match like a firecracker. He started with a 4-1 lead on Noble rather early in the match. It initially appeared that this match could be the Tanner Hiatt show. This was a unique situation for Noble, for he generally never fell behind early in his matches. In fact, two of the losses referenced in this article were lost while he was holding on to a lead. And he only lost six times in his career. The moment I thought to myself, “Is Seth good at bouncing back from giving up early points?” he tacked a couple points on himself. And he didn’t stop. He just kept tacking them on. No big, high scoring moves. Just tacked on takedowns here and there that eventually added up. The match had a lot of scrambles and Noble got the upper hand on them after giving up the initial 4 points. Noble went on to win that match 8-5 and proceeded to win the championship.

Tanner Hiatt: "The semifinal loss I had to Noble is the match that sticks out to me the most.  At the time, I felt terrible, but knowing I lost to a good competitor helped a tiny bit. He was one of the best 2A wrestlers. I do think about my loss to Noble more than the win. This loss did not bother me as badly as my loss in the finals my senior year though, for I felt that I single-handedly lost that one by doing something stupid."

Seth Noble: "I won the 2010 semifinal match 8-5 in at the state tournament. Both matches we had were very intense and important, obviously with them being at the state tournament especially with one being in the finals. But even the semifinal match was just as intense, because I believed that the winner of that semis match would go on to win the finals, which was what happened."

When asked if there is anything they would change about their wrestling careers if they could do it over again and how wrestling has impacted them in their lives today, both had interesting answers.

Tanner Hiatt: "I wouldn’t change anything, you live and learn and the end of the day it is just wrestling. In the big picture, there is much more to life so don’t dread on the losses. All a learning experience. I use the wrestling mindset everyday in my life. The best sport to be in if you want to develop to become a successful adult. Football and team sports you have to rely on others so your team can win. Wrestling it is one on one and if you lose it is YOUR fault no one elses. So it teaches you to be a man and don’t blame others for your downfalls."

Seth Noble: "When I was still a kid, I wanted to go back and change every loss I ever had. Because I hated to lose in a anything. But as I got older and more mature, you learn how to lose and how to except it and learn from it. So I wouldn't change anything about my wrestling career. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I did."

When asked if they had any interest in a rematch at an old timers tournament, here were the same responses:

Tanner Hiatt: "No, that won’t happen. I am on to coaching youth wrestling. My days are over for competition. Wrestling did not end how I wanted it in college by getting hurt and all, but now I can pass my knowledge on to others."

Seth Noble: "I don't think that will ever happen. I think we both are fine with where we are and what we've done to where we don't have anything left to prove."