Imagine growing up in the Kraisser household in Ellicott City. You have four brothers who all wrestle, even 6-year-old Calvin, and two sisters. Your father, Cliff, was a state champion wrestler at nearby Centennial High School in 1983. Your mother, Kerri, keeps the show running smoothly. You have a wrestling mat in the basement, but the wrestling is not always confined to that designated area.
Impromptu sparring matches break out "all the time. There have been broken (lamps), broken windows and it wasn't just us. It was our dad, too," said Nathan Kraisser, who has one older brother, three younger brothers and two younger sisters. "Everything is a competition. Grades, football, basketball."
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? It also sounds like the perfect environment to create one of the greatest wrestlers in Maryland history.
And that's exactly what happened.
Nathan Kraisser, who admits that he and his brothers don't have wrestling matches in the kitchen as often as they used to, won his fourth state title last month. He is only the fifth wrestler in history to win four Maryland public school titles, and the first from Howard County.
Not surprisingly, he is the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times Wrestler of the Year for the fourth straight year as well.
"Nathan is as steady as they come, as focused as they come," said River Hill coach Brandon Lauer, who himself was 111-0 in high school with three state titles before going onto become an All-American at West Virginia University. "His preparation is unmatched. He'll do whatever it takes to get the job done ... Nathan is incredible."
Kraisser, who earned an athletic scholarship to wrestle at the University of North Carolina next year, didn't get to where he is just by growing up in a wrestling environment. He entered high school as a freshman having already been tested against the top youth wrestlers in the country and having already spent endless hours honing his craft.
"One of his goals as a freshman was to be a four-time state champ, and I don't know many freshmen who come in realistically with that goal," Centennial coach Dave Roogow said. "And then to see it all the way through..."
But it's not like Kraisser just walked to the top of the podium at every tournament he entered.
Each of his first two seasons he lost to Wyoming Seminary's Dominick Malone at the Mount Mat Madness tournament. As a junior he finally defeated Malone at MMM and completed his first undefeated season. But this year, always seeking a more difficult challenge, he competed in the Walsh Ironman tournament in Ohio. There, he lost three times — doubling his career loss total — and placed sixth. His weight class included six of the top 10 ranked wrestlers in the nation.
Kraisser said that when he reflects back on his high school career, "The things that stand out the most are the losses ... I was angry at the time, but I'm not angry about them anymore."
That's because each of those six losses taught him more than most of his 152 victories.
After his undefeated sophomore season, Kraisser worked hard to become a better scrambler — or better when his opponent had an advantageous position from neutral — and that helped him win his first Mount Mat Madness title. This season, Kraisser worked on his takedowns, something that he noticed he needed to be more aggressive with after his experience at the Walsh Ironman.
While Kraisser has always been a dominant wrestler from the top position, he knows that he is far from done when it comes to improving.
"I need to work on bottom for college, and you've always got to keep working on your feet (neutral)," he said.
Don't be mistaken. While Kraisser has room for improvement, he is one of the best wrestlers to ever compete in the state of Maryland. This season he pinned 21 of his opponents and defeated six more by tech fall. He might have scored more than his 58 takedowns except when he took an opponent down, they usually didn't get back up.
Since winning his fourth state title in early March, Kraisser hasn't really slowed down.
After winning both of his matches at the Maryland State Wrestling Association All-Star Classic just a few days after the state tournament, Kraisser represented Team Maryland at the prestigious Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic in Pittsburgh on March 25. His win helped the Marylanders to a convincing win over the formidable Western Pennsylvania team, 34-10, and he was named Outstanding Wrestler for his efforts.
"To be able to go up there and wrestle that well against them was great for Maryland," he said.
Last weekend, Kraisser traveled to Virginia Beach and won a National High School Coaches Association Senior National championship. It all sounds routine at this point, but to win that title, Kraisser had to defeat Hunter Weber, a three-time Wisconsin state champion and the No. 11 ranked 126-pounder in the nation. Kraisser is ranked No. 8.
"Nathan works hard and this is what he does. He loves wrestling, he puts his mind and time into it, he works hard all the time," Cliff Kraisser said. "I'm proud and happy for him."
Next up is the FILA Junior Nationals and only then do things kind of slow down before he heads off to UNC at the end of the summer.
"After (FILA) I'm not sure. I've got nothing for awhile," he said. "I usually take August off. I'll probably go to the beach with my family."
Also named to the all-county team:
106: Zach Hensley (41-3), Oakland Mills junior
County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 2nd.
Hensley built on last year's breakout campaign, when he placed third in the state, by advancing to the state finals. There he lost by a close, 3-0, decision to Southern-Garrett's Austin Shaffer. This year's campaign also included his second straight county and regional titles.
113: Mason Kilcarr (38-6), Reservoir sophomore
County: 1st. Region: 2nd. State: Did not place.
Kilcarr became Reservoir's first Glenn DeVane Outstanding Wrestler award winner after upsetting Wilde Lake's former state champ Alex Polonsky in the county championship finals. Polonsky avenged the loss a week later in the regional finals, but Kilcarr has now accumulated almost 70 wins to go with a county and regional title in just two seasons of varsity wrestling. He also won the Grapple at the Brook tournament this season.
113: Alex Polonsky (39-4), Wilde Lake senior
County: 2nd. Region: 1st. State: 4th.
Polonsky will graduate as one of the best wrestlers to ever come through Wilde Lake. He won a state title as a sophomore in 2010, won his second regional title this year by pinning Kilcarr, and finished his high school career with a sparkling 139-23 record. Polonsky was also a champion at the Keaser Classic and the Edgewood Invitational this season.
120: Tony Farace (38-2), Oakland Mills senior
County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 3rd.
While Farace's unexpected loss in the state semifinals prevented him from joining Kraisser in the exclusive four-time state championship club, it doesn't diminish what will go down as one of the greatest careers ever assembled by a Howard County wrestler. He finished with an amazing 162 wins against only six losses (four of them to Kraisser), two county titles, three state titles and four regional titles. After losing in the state semifinals, Farace wrestled back with a vengeance to salvage third. He plans to continue his wrestling career in college.
132: Malik Jackson (33-8), Wilde Lake sophomore
County: 1st. Region: 3rd. State: 4th.
In only his second year in the sport, and one-year removed from a JV county championship, Jackson surprised even himself when he won the varsity county championship and placed fourth at the state tournament. Jackson, who was also an Edgewood Invitational champion, was 3-2 at the state tournament, with both of his losses coming by just two points.
138: Sam Rowell (42-5), Reservoir freshman
County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 5th.
In a strong freshman class, Rowell stood above the crowd. He defeated fellow freshman Brian Kirby of River Hill for the county title, and then worked his way through a difficult bracket to follow up with a regional title. At the state tournament he was knocked out of the championship bracket with a narrow, 4-0, decision to the eventual state champion. He is Reservoir's youngest ever county champion, besting older brother Seth, who won as a sophomore last year before transferring to Mount St. Joseph.
145: Jonathan Goodwin (38-2), Hammond senior
County: Did not place. Region: 2nd. State: 2nd.
After having his junior season cut short due to a leg injury, Goodwin made the most of his final campaign, making it to the finals of both the regional and state tournaments, with his only losses coming to two-time state champion Alex Rice of Chesapeake. He missed weight by a fraction of a pound at the county tournament, but didn't let that setback bring him down. Of his 38 wins this season, 23 were by pinfall. The Northern Patriot Classic champ was a takedown expert, leading the county with 105. He finishes his Hammond career with a 96-32 record.
145: Pat Mullens (28-6), Atholton junior
County: 1st. Region: 3rd. State: Did not place.
When Goodwin missed weight at the county tournament, Mullens took advantage of the opportunity, working his way through a wild bracket to become county champion. Three of his wins at the county tournament were decided by two points, including an overtime win. His only loss at the regional tournament was to Goodwin, and he'll now have a chance to become a two-time county champ next year.
152: David Ulysse (40-7), Oakland Mills senior
County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: Did not place.
Ulysse is the kind of wrestler that Oakland Mills coach Brad Howell loves: someone who comes in as a freshman with no prior experience, and leaves after four years of hard work and dedication as a champion. Ulysse followed his county title with a regional crown, and then won twice at the state tournament.
160: Cory Daniel (42-8), River Hill sophomore
County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 6th.
Daniel wrestled most of the season at 170, but dropped to 160 for the county tournament to make his team's line-up stronger. The move paid off as Daniel won his first county and regional titles, and the Hawks soared to county, regional and state team tournament banners. Daniel scored an impressive 22 pins and 58 takedowns this season, and in only two years he has already won more than 70 matches. He placed fifth at the recent sophomore nationals.
170: Tyler Asher (31-11), Glenelg senior
County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: Did not place.
A year after winning the JV county championship, Asher finally got his opportunity to wrestle varsity this season, and he flew with it. He pinned his way to the county finals, where he defeated River Hill's John Kum, 6-1, and followed that with a regional championship. Asher, who also won the Franklin Invitational, recorded 18 pins this season.
182: Omar Messallam (43-5), River Hill senior
County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: Did not place.
Messallam won 26 matches last year and placed fourth in the county, but after devoting himself to a serious offseason training regiment, he took the next step this year. He won his first county title in dominant fashion, avenging a 2011 loss to Glenelg's Glenn Lucas in the finals, then looked just as strong in winning a regional title. He won twice at the state tournament, just one win shy of placing. A strong finisher, Messallam tallied 26 pins and 83 takedowns this season.
195: Logan Kirby (34-4), River Hill sophomore
County: 1st. Region: 3rd. State: 2nd.
Kirby showed signs of greatness last year when he won 20 matches and placed third in the county as a freshman at 170. This year he grew physically and proved that last year was no fluke. After winning the county title, his only losses were to North County senior Brandon Ballard, in the regional semifinals and the state finals. He finished the season with 18 pins and placed fourth at sophomore nationals this spring.
220: Jacob Benedict (42-4), River Hill senior
County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 4th.
Benedict, who has been wrestling varsity since his freshman year, took his lumps as an underclassmen. But as a junior and senior, Benedict has been the one getting his hand raised. After winning a county title, his 3-2 double overtime win against North County's Pat Hyde in the regional finals was one of the most exciting moments of the postseason. He lost a close decision to the eventual state champion in the state semifinals before placing fourth. Benedict finishes his career as a Hawk with 108 wins.
285: Jason Johnson (46-2), River Hill senior
County: 1st. Region: 2nd. State: 1st.
Johnson trained relentlessly since placing fifth in the county last year and enjoyed the kind of senior season that most high school athletes only dream about. First, he led River Hill to a state football championship this fall. Then he helped the Hawks set a new record for points scored at the county wrestling tournament. Finally, his 3-2 win over LaPlata's Jon Boarman in the state finals punctuated River Hill's first state tournament title. Johnson, whose father, John, won a county title for Oakland Mills in 1990, also helped Maryland defeat Western Pennsylvania in the Dapper Dan Classic. He led the county with 30 pins, and finishes his varsity career with a record of 88-13.
285: Sean Twigg (37-5), Glenelg junior
County: 2nd. Region: 1st. State: 1st.
Twigg, a 2011 JV county champion, was blocked from a county title by Johnson, but once the Class 1A/2A postseason began, he showed what he was capable of. The Franklin Invitational champion and War on the Shore finalist cruised to a regional championship, then convincingly won the state tournament in his first attempt. And Twigg, who scored 18 pins this year, will be back next year.