Seeking redemption: Mo Valley’s Ludwig aims for district title

He’s won a lot of bouts in his wrestling career, especially the last two seasons, but Moshannon Valley’s Jake Ludwig will be all about overcoming losses from last year when he begins the postseason trail at the District 6 Class AA Tournament on Friday.

The first loss that came under the most glare was in the 220-pound district finals, where he was pinned in the first period by Richland’s eventual three-time state champion John Rizzo.

Ludwig laughs that one off and says “He’s tough, and he’s just strong.”

But it was the last loss that was the hardest to take. Ludwig, after a quarterfinal loss at the Southwest Regional Tournament, battled all the way back to the consolation semifinals.

He needed one more win to qualify for the PIAA Championships and join his brother, 182-pound fifth-placer Dylan, and 195-pound third-placer James Stodart as a qualifier, but a 5-2 loss to Bedford’s Jacob Krupa put him in the fifth-place finals, and an 8-6 loss to West Greene’s Cody Jacobs ended his season.

“I was disappointed,” Ludwig said before a practice last week. “I wish I could have made it. It sucks losing, but it’s still an accomplishment to be [at regionals], I guess. There’s a lot of good kids there, but you’ve just got to wrestle well though.

“It just made me want to work harder for this year. My brother and James made it last year, and I didn’t get to wrestle down there. Watching it down there made me realize I should have been down there.”

Mo Valley coach Justin Fye took Jake on the Hershey trip anyway. It’s common for coaches to bring wrestlers who just missed going to see what it’s like and reward their hard work.

“We wanted him to get the experience with that,” Fye said, “because we figured there’s a good chance he might make it down this year. I know he was heartbroken when he didn’t win. You can’t get much closer than what he did.”

Despite the tough break, Ludwig is having a pretty good season. He’s 23-3 with 16 pins at 220, and he just won his weight class at the Richard Smoker Tournament in Selinsgrove on Saturday. He had two early-season losses to Altoona’s Mante Barnes and West Branch’s Buzzy Maines, and he lost to Cambria Heights’ Aaron Gill when he moved up to 285.

“At the beginning of the year, he was working hard right off the bat,” Fye said. “Then he lost two matches within a week, and he took it pretty hard because he knew what was expected of him. We sat down with him and said ‘You know what, just go out and wrestle.’ That’s what got him where he was last year.

“He’s been doing an excellent job. He’s been working extremely hard in the room. We’ve talked about having no regrets, and he’s been putting a lot of extra time in the room. He’s been getting guys to run some extra sprints in the hallways within the last week. He knows what he has to do. I don’t have to tell him. I think he’s starting to wrestle really good.”

Even when he does lose, you get the feeling that it doesn’t keep him down for long. He says he always has something smart to say to everybody, including to Fye.

“I say to Coach Fye ‘Good one dude,’ ” Ludwig said.

“He gets guys pumped in the wrestling room, and he jokes around with coaches,” Fye said, “because coaches get excited too. Sometimes he’ll come up and say ‘Coach, relax, calm down a little bit.'”

Ludwig has qualified for a state tournament, advancing to the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Championships as a fourth-grader. Of course, he was a lot smaller then. Heck, he’s a lot bigger than he was when he came up to the high school team as a freshman.

He wrestled at 130 as a freshman, going 14-21, 152 as a sophomore, going 12-15, and then 220 the last two seasons. Ludwig looks for the upper body throws, but he’ll switch to a leg shot if that’s not there, like he did before pinning Claysburg-Kimmel’s Tyler Elder in a dual meet last week.

“The one thing that’s nice with Jake is he’s used to wrestling like a middleweight,” Fye said. “He’s not afraid to shoot on a guy. He likes to go upperbody. If it’s there, he’s going to throw you, but if not, he’s going to go out and wrestle you and make you not want to wrestle on your feet against him.”

What has been helping Ludwig get ready for the postseason is drilling with district champion Stodart in the wrestling room. Mo Valley hasn’t had multiple district champions in the same season since the 1989 team produced three.

“It helps me out a lot because somebody good like that makes you better every day,” Ludwig said of having Stodart as a workout partner. “We go hard at it all the time in practice. It’s like an even match the whole time.”

Ludwig says he’s really looking forward to the district tournament, which begins Friday at the Altoona Fieldhouse.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I want to get some revenge with the losses I had and be a district champ. I’ve wanted to be a district champ since I lost last year in districts to Rizzo. I’ve been waiting to be first in districts my whole life.”

“I expect him to do nothing less than win it,” Fye said. “If he keeps working hard and doing really well, good things will happen for him. I expect him to be on top of the podium.”