Driven to succeed: States losses push Mo Valley’s Stodart

James Stodart had one of the best years any Moshannon Valley wrestler has had in quite some time in 2011-12.

He didn’t lose a bout until the Southwest Regional Tournament, and that was in the overtime tiebreaker to Avella’s eventual tournament runner-up Jacob Temple in the quarterfinals. The 195-pounder finished 40-3 with 22 pins, becoming the first Black Knight to win 40 bouts in a season.

But, he didn’t place at the PIAA Championships, going 1-2 and getting eliminated by Saucon Valley’s eventual third-placer Ray O’Donnell, 12-1, after winning his first District 6 title and finishing third at regionals. Suddenly, a banner year had come to a thudding halt.

“I was not very happy with that,” Stodart said. “I felt if I could have made a couple more moves, I would have brought home a medal. If I had fixed the mistakes, it would have helped me out a lot more. That drives me insanely. That’s my motivation to become even better the following year.”

“He does not like defeat,” Mo Valley coach Justin Fye said. “He’s not satisfied with just being good. He wants to be great. He lost his first-round match [to Lewisburg’s Brandon Smith, 5-4], won his consolation [Bermudian Springs’ Brock Linebaugh, 6-5] and then ran into one of the best kids in the state.”

Stodart, who also played football and baseball, carried that motivation with him in the offseason as he practiced, lifted and competed with Young Guns in Virginia Beach, where he went 6-2.

Stodart is 10-2 with seven pins going into tonight’s match against rival Glendale. It’s a good record, but it’s also two losses that he didn’t have during the regular season last year. But a closer look at his competition shows you there’s a difference from a year ago.

The Knights added the season-opening Mountaineer Tournament and the Governor Mifflin Tournament to their schedule, which is where his losses happened.

“Last year, when we had a few guys make it to regionals, we saw the caliber of competition,” Fye said. “Every kid there is great. We felt as a coaching staff, we needed to start getting new tournaments on our schedule, so when we get to that level, they know what to expect. We felt with the tournaments we added, it was going to be good competition.”

“I don’t want to wrestle the roly polys,” Stodart said. “I want the good kids because then you can figure out what moves work.”

Stodart dropped an 11-8 decision to Somerset’s returning District 5 champion Jacob Nickelson in the Mountaineer finals, and a 6-3 decision to Lampeter-Strasburg’s returning Class AAA qualifier Jeff Pickel in the GM Tournament finals.

“Honestly, I need to work on some things,” Stodart said. “That first loss, I was wrestling pretty sloppy. I just wasn’t using my head and I lost track of the score. I mixed up the scores. I do believe I wrestled better in the second one. He was pretty tough on top. I’m getting better.”

“I think he was upset with the loss at the beginning of the year,” Fye said. “He had it in his head that he was not going to lose. At the Governor Mifflin, he wrestled a kid that’s ranked in the top 10 in AAA, and he realized he was right there. After that tournament, he went extremely hard in practice.”

It was practice and repetitions that made him good after he started wrestling in the first grade. Stodart has 51 pins in his high school career to go with his 95-27 record – he’s aiming at Ryan Jacoby’s school win record of 115 – and he had a double-digit pin total in his first three seasons.

“It was always fun for me,” Stodart said.

He went 21-15 as a freshman 152-pounder, but then he grew some more and made the jump as a sophomore up to 189, where, despite the increased weight, he went 24-7. He made the district finals, where he was pinned by Portage’s David Kephart, and he was one win away from making the placing round at regionals.

Last year, he captured his first district title with a 4-0 win over Cambria Heights’ Jake Beach, and he was looking forward to a matchup with Southmoreland’s two-time regional champ Jordan Kitta, who had beaten Stodart in the regionals the year before. He never got that chance, and he got some new motivation.

Not a vocal guy, that motivation has kept him focused in practice and caught the attention of the younger wrestlers.

“This year, we’re looking for him to be a leader,” Fye said. “I’m really pushing him to be the leader in that room. He doesn’t have to be a vocal leader.”

“Honestly, I don’t know if they look up to me,” Stodart said. “Hopefully, they do because they talk a lot about wrestling like me to become a state qualifier. I hope everybody makes it to states.”

The tall, lanky senior has his sights set on the postseason again, and this time, he wants to make that high step on the medals stand.

“Hopefully, I end up winning the rest of my matches,” Stodart said.

When it was pointed out to him that would mean he’d win a state title by winning the rest, he said, “That’s the game plan. It’s going to be tough, but I’m going to try the best I can. I’m pumped. I’m ready to go right now.”