South Xtra: West Mifflin grad in NCAA tournament
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It's not often that a wrestler has a move named after him, but that's the case with West Mifflin Area graduate James Fleming, a Clarion University senior.
"We refer to it as the 'Snapper Roll,'" Clarion coach Troy Letters said. "It's a side headlock in which James puts his opponent on his back. It's really hard to defense it. It's hard to stop."
As an 8-year-old wrestler, Fleming was nicknamed Snapper because of the way he attacked his opponents. His coach at the time was reminded of a snapping turtle's powerful jaws and gave Fleming the nickname.
"I try the move at least five times a match," said Fleming, who will make his fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Tournament, which begins today at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. "It works practically every time."
In his four years at Clarion, Fleming has compiled a 122-18 career record with 38 pins and 19 technical falls. He ranks 10th in school history in career victories and could move as high as fourth with a good showing at the NCAA tournament.
"This is [Fleming's] final season and hopefully his masterpiece," Letters said. "He's proven himself at the national level. He can compete with anybody in his weight class. James is mentally and physically prepared to take it to the next step."
Fleming broke into Clarion's starting lineup as a 149-pound freshman. He posted a 28-8 record, which included two losses at the NCAA tourney. He moved up to 157 the following season and posted a 31-4 record, including a 1-2 mark at nationals.
Last season, Fleming earned All-American status by placing fifth in the country at 157 pounds. He posted a 6-2 record at nationals and finished the season with a 33-4 record.
"The NCAA tournament is like no other tournament," Fleming said. "The experience I've picked up at nationals the past three years gives me a lot of confidence going into this year's tournament. I've figured out how to deal with the size of the tournament. I have to treat it as any other tournament. The key is to be hungry and not get overwhelmed."
Fleming is seeded No. 5 in the 157-pound weight class with a 30-2 record.
"I'm in a weight class that doesn't have a clear favorite," Fleming said. "The top six or seven seeds in this weight class are capable of winning it all. It's that tight.
"Everybody is capable of beating everybody else. I have just as much of a chance of winning as the others. I can't ask for any more than that."
Northwestern's Jason Welch (30-1), a two-time All-American, is the top seed. Iowa's Derek St. John (26-2), last year's national runner-up, is the No. 2 seed. Lehigh's Joseph Napoli (18-2) is seeded No. 3, while Nebraska's James Green (20-4) is No. 4.
"James lost to Welch in a dual meet," Letters said. "His other loss was to [unseeded] Taylor Walsh (29-10) of Indiana at the Midlands Tournament.
"James needs to wrestle his style for a full seven minutes, but he also needs to be smart. He needs to score points, but doesn't have to push for the fall."
Fleming's "Snapper Roll" is well known among his opponents, but it's still effective.
"I've hit the Snapper Roll from every possible position," Fleming said. "And I've even learned to disguise the move so that my opponent doesn't know when it's coming."
Fleming is majoring in sports management and will graduate this summer.
"I'm considering [mixed martial arts], but I haven't decided yet," Fleming said. "I would also like to go into coaching. I'll just have to pick the best option and go from there."
Fleming was a four-time PIAA Class AAA place-winner at West Mifflin with his highest finish coming as a sophomore, as he finished third at 140. He posted a 130-15 career record for the Titans.
First Published March 21, 2013 12:00 am