Once the referee's whistle blows, it all comes like second nature. There is a series of fluid movements, lean muscles clenching and loosening, feet lightly skipping in a violent dance around the mat, and six minutes later, Centennial senior Nathan Kraisser is state champion again.
On Saturday evening at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House, Kraisser (126) became just the fifth wrestler to win four Maryland public school state titles, joining Aberdeen's Matt Slutzky (1989-1992), Owings Mills' Steve Kessler (1994-1997), Hereford's Josh Asper (2005-2008) and Southern of Garrett's George Scheffel (2007-2010) on the exclusive list.
Kraisser, whose biggest show of emotion prior to this year was cracking a grin after last year's state title, wowed the crowd with a backflip after his finals win over South River junior Collin Alley.
"I knew he was great defensively and strong, so I knew coming in that I was going to have to work for every point that I got, I knew he was going to be able to adjust and learn," said Kraisser, who will wrestle on scholarship for North Carolina next year. "There is a little sense of relief, I got it done, I got that fourth state title, the pressure is off, now I'm the underdog again going into college ... coming in, working hard, and proving myself.
"It's a great honor to be grouped in that category (of four time state champions) and be the first one from Howard County to do it," he added. "It was a tough road but I'm glad I was able to get it done."
And underscoring just how difficult of a feat that was, Oakland Mills' Tony Farace (120), who was also poised to win his fourth state title on Saturday, fell, 5-4, in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon to the eventual champion, Western Tech sophomore Tejon Anthony.
Making the sting even worse, Farace appeared to secure the winning takedown at the end of the match, but was not awarded the two points.
"I definitely had two," said Farace, who scored a 45 second pin in the third place match after wrestling back. "I guess I'm just looking forward to what I can do in college."
On a night that abounded with historic firsts for Howard County, River Hill won its first ever state tournament team title.
"It's pretty remarkable, it's been an unbelievable run," coach Brandon Lauer said. "We were 30th last year and driving home was pretty discouraging. It was the lowest we've ever finished, taking it on the chin like that last year was humbling and also made us that much more focused."
The Hawks were led by senior heavyweight champion Jason Johnson, who leapt into coach Brandon Lauer's arms after his win over LaPlata's Jon Boarman.
"That was actually planned, I talked to him about it yesterday, I said 'Lauer if I win you think you'll be able to hold me?' and he said 'Damn right!' That was something I was looking forward to," Johnson said.
Johnson finished fifth at the county sport last year, but dedicated himself to wrestling all offseason (except for when he was leading the River Hill football team to a state title).
"The hard offseason can just change you as a wrestler. I went to Fargo, trained with the (Maryland) National team, pretty much just did a full wrestling season in the offseason," he said. "As a team, every day we worked as hard as possible and we have the best (coaches) in the state."
The wrestler who Johnson defeated for the Howard County title two weeks ago, Glenelg junior Sean Twigg, climbed to the top of the 1A/2A podium, making it the first time that Howard County had swept the heavyweight titles across big schools and small schools in one year.
Twigg, a JV county champion last year, defeated Parkdale senior Bremante Tull, 8-3, in the finals.
"I knew that he was big into throws from neutral, but after I got that first takedown (in the first period) I was just real confident that I could win," he said.
Howard County sent six wrestlers to the finals, but Oakland Mills junior Zach Hensley (106), Hammond senior Jonathan Goodwin (145) and River Hill sophomore Logan Kirby (195) all fell short in their ascent to the top.
Hensley, who placed third last year, lost 3-0 to Southern Garrett sophomore Austin Shaffer; Goodwin lost, 12-3, to Chesapeake senior Alex Rice, the defending state champion who also beat Goodwin for the regional crown last week; and Kirby lost to North County senior Brandon Ballard.
Howard County in the championship finals
126: Centennial senior Nathan Kraisser (36-3) maj. South River junior Collin Alley (38-5), 14-4.
145: Chesapeake senior Alex Rice (27-0) maj. Hammond senior Jonathan Goodwin (38-2), 13-4.
195: North County senior Brandon Ballard (33-2) maj. River Hill sophomore Logan Kirby (37-5), 11-3.
285: River Hill senior Jason Johnson (46-2) dec. LaPlata senior Jon Boarman (36-1), 3-2.
106: Southern Garrett sophomore Austin Shaffer (39-3) dec. Oakland Mills junior Zach Hensley (41-3), 3-0.
285: Glenelg junior Sean Twigg (37-5) dec. Parkside senior Bremante Tull (42-5), 8-3.
Kraisser won convincingly in the 3A/4A state semfinals at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House on Saturday afternoon.
But on the opposite side of the arena, in the 1A/2A state semifinals, the quest for a fourth state title ended for Oakland Mills senior Tony Farace (120) with a 5-4 loss to Western Tech sophomore Tejon Anthony.
River Hill still leads the 3A/4A team race, 77-65.5 over second place Tuscarora, after the semifinals. The Hawks are led into the finals by sophomore Logan Kirby (195) and senior Jason Johnson (285).
Only four wrestlers have ever won four Maryland state titles, and none of them are from Howard County.
Farace took a 2-0 lead on Anthony with a first period takedown, but in the second period, Anthony reversed Farace to his back to go ahead, 5-2. Farace escaped with less than 30 seconds left in the third to cut the score to 5-4 after a stalling call against Anthony, but could not come up with the winning takedown as the final seconds ticked off of the clock.
"(Farace) is very good, very talented, but my coach kept telling me seeds meant nothing, and that's what I came into the match believing and thinking, that I could beat anybody and anybody can be beat at any time," Anthony said.
The sophomore said that he didn't even remember how he managed to catch the three-time state champion in a disadvantageous position.
"It came so fast that when it happened I took advantage and caught him on his back for a good five and that's what led to the victory," he said.
The loss nothwithstanding, Farace joins Oakland Mills' Jeff Rosenberg (1986-1988), River Hill's Brandon Lauer (1998-2000) and Hammond's Vince Taweel (2004-2006) on the list of Howard County greats to win three state titles.
Kraisser was preparing for his own semifinal match when Farace lost, but said that he did see what was unfolding.
"It fired me up, it reminded me that I couldn't relax, I can't take a break because that's what can happen. I feel bad for (Tony) but it helped me prepare better," said Kraisser, who looked dominant in his 15-0 tech fall win over Parkdale sophomore Franklin Deogarcia.
"I'm feeling good, I've been able to go out there and do my stuff, wrestle hard the whole time," he said.
Kraisser's finals match-up, against South River junior Collin Alley, will be a rematch of the 3A/4A East regional final when Kraisser won by 14 points.
Hammond senior Jonathan Goodwin, who is a first-time state finalist, will meet the opponent he faced in the regional finals — Chesapeake defending state champion Alex Rice — as well. In that match, Goodwin lost, 8-4.
For River Hill, Kirby will get a rematch against North County's Brandon Ballard, the wrestler he lost to in the regional semifinals by major decision, in the state championship match.
Johnson will be going up against 2011 state finalist Jon Boarman of LaPlata.
In the wake of Farace's loss, only two local wrestlers made it to the 1A/2A championship round: Farace's teammate Zach Hensley (106), and at the other end of the weight spectrum, Glenelg junior Sean Twigg (285).
Farace wasn't the only former state champion from Howard County to lose in the semifinals. Wilde Lake senior Alex Polonsky (113), who was hoping to end his wrestling career with a second state title after winning as a sophomore in 2010, fell in overtime to Tuscarora's undefeated sophomore Anthoney Savage.
Semifinal results involving Howard County wrestlers
113: Tuscarora sophomore Anthony Savage (39-0) dec. Wilde Lake senior Alex Polonsky (38-3), 7-5 OT.
126: Centennial senior Nathan Kraisser (35-3) tf. Parkdale sophomore Franklin Deogarcia (35-4), 15-0/3:25.
132: Bel Air senior Jeff Taylor (36-6) dec. Wilde Lake sophomore Malik Jackson (32-7), 2-0.
138: Churchill sophomore Hunter Sutton (37-2) dec. Reservoir freshman Sam Rowell (41-4), 4-0.
145: Chesapeake senior Alex Rice (26-0) dec. Mt. Hebron junior Joe Kendrick (36-7), 12-0.
145: Hammond senior Jonathan Goodwin (38-1) dec. Towson senior Hassan James (35-9), 4-1.
160: Whitman senior Brad Taylor (26-6) dec. Wilde Lake junior Tola Morakinyo (33-8), 4-3.
160: Tuscarora senior Austin Wenzlaff (44-0) maj. River Hill sophomore Cory Daniel (42-6), 12-2.
195: River Hill sophomore Logan Kirby (36-4) dec. Old Mill senior Seth Holbrook (30-7), 4-3.
220: Perry Hall junior Matt Green (10-0) dec. River Hill senior Jacob Benedict (41-3), 6-3.
285: River Hill senior Jason Johnson (45-2) pin Whitman senior Josh Daryoush (28-2), 3:02.
106: Oakland Mills junior Zach Hensley (41-2) tf. Catoctin freshman Garrett Buckley (37-7), 17-1/4:29.
120: Western Tech sophomore Tejon Anthony (34-4) dec. Oakland Mills senior Tony Farace (36-2), 5-4.
220: Winters Mill senior Brandon Burndley (39-6) dec. Glenelg senior Justin Jung (32-14), 4-0.
285: Parkside senior Bremante Tull (42-4) pin Oakland Mills senior Roy Kadje (34-10).
285: Glenelg junior Sean Twigg (36-5) dec. South Dorchester senior Jacob Muir (38-3), 3-0.
Just as it was at the Howard County wrestling tournament two weeks ago, the 145-pound weight class has again been wild and full of surprises. This time, though, on the state's biggest stage, the stakes are much greater.
Mt. Hebron junior Joe Kendrick and Hammond senior Jonathan Goodwin both authored upsets on Friday at the 3A/4A state wrestling tournament to advance to the semifinal round, Saturday morning at 11 a.m. at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House.
Goodwin would have been the undefeated top-seed at the county tournament, but he missed weight by a fraction of a pound. A week later, he lost for the first time this season in the regional finals to Chesapeake's Alex Rice.
But he didn't let either of those setbacks distract him when facing Northern Calvert's undefeated regional champion Eric Hoffman in the quarterfinals on Friday. Goodwin caught Hoffman on his back for the pin less than 30 seconds into the second period.
"I felt his leg coming out to the side too far and I hooked his leg with my arm and I eventually locked around his head because he was trying to hold on too long and I rolled him up onto his back and pinned him," Goodwin said. "It's huge, I was looking forward so much to having a match with Rice again and I made sure I did everything in my gameplan to meet him again in the finals. I've got another match (Saturday morning against Towson's Hassan James) and I've got to focus on that one, but I'm looking forward to it.
"I knew (Hoffman) was undefeated, I knew I could beat him though, I knew I could do it."
Goodwin missed the postseason last year with a leg injury, but had experienced the state tournament as a sophomore.
Kendrick, who was third at countys and foourth at regions, also missed the postseason last year, with a shoulder injury, but had never stepped on to the mat at Cole Field House before he went up against West regional champion Dennis Creegan of Damascus on Friday.
But, like Goodwin, he didn't let a few losses keep him from thinking upset against a highly accomplished opponent.
Kendrick defeated Creegan, who was 41-3 coming into the match, 7-4, and then went on to score a tech fall in the quarterfinals against North Point senior Kevin Gascon.
"I came in here pretty nervous but I was just going to come out and wrestle my match. It was really tough, but I just stayed strong the whole match and never gave up," Kendrick said. "Anyone can beat anyone on any given day, so that's what I was thinking ... I've just been a lot more aggressive."
Kendrick earned a rematch with Chesapeake's Alex Rice, who pinned him in the regional semifinals.
"It's pretty cool, I get a rematch and hopefully I'll do a little better this time," he said.
There weren't many other big surprises for Howard County wrestlers on the first day of the tournament, and for Centennial's Nathan Kraisser (126) and Oakland Mills' Tony Farace (120), that was a good thing.
Both seniors are attempting to become the first wrestlers from Howard County to ever win four state titles, and so far, they haven't disappointed.
Kraisser has scored a pin and a tech fall on his way to the semifinals, while Farace has collected two quick pins.
Farace has also helped his team to second place in the 1A/2A standings behind powerhouse Winters Mill after the first two rounds.
He is joined by fellow Scorpions Zach Hensley (106) and Roy Kadje (285) in the semifinals.
Glenelg advanced a pair of wrestlers, senior Justin Jung (220) and junior Sean Twigg (285), to the state semifinals. As defending JV county champions, neither wrestler has competed in the state tournament before.
With four wrestlers still in the 3A/4A championship bracket — Cory Daniel (160), Logan Kirby (195), Jacob Benedict (220) and Jason Johnson (285) — River Hill has a healthy 15 point advantage over second place Tuscarora in the team standings after the quarterfinal round.
More surprising, Wilde Lake is not far behind, in third.
The Wildecats sent three wrestlers — Alex Polonsky (113), Malik Jackson (132) and Tola Morakinyo (160) — onto the semifinals.
Polonsky is looking to add a second state title to his resume after winning as a sophomore in 2010.
Reservoir freshman Sam Rowell (138) has not looked outclassed in his first state tournament experience, scoring two pins en route to the semifinals.