Minutes before stepping on the mat for his 145-pound state championship match in March, Austin Krassier got word from his father and coach Cliff that his older brother Nathan, then a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, had won the 125-pound Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title.
The news gave him confidence for his match and just one more reason to win, even though he already had enough motivating him.
A loss in a close match to a senior in the 138-pound championship Kraisser's freshman season eats at him constantly. He thinks about it often when he's on the mat. That loss, in the eyes of many, meant he would never be as good as the older brother he idolizes.
"It was heartbreaking. I was disappointed ... right then I couldn't repeat what Nathan did and become a four time state champ," Kraisser said. "I had to do the next best thing and say, 'all right, this is never going to happen again. I'm never going to lose in this tournament ever again.' ... I felt like I let my brother down, my dad down."
It's what drives him to work harder than he had before. It pushed him to a finish his sophomore season 38-1 and avenge his loss in the state championship match the year prior.
Before his championship match at University of Maryland's Cole Field House, Kraisser told himself there was no way he was going to lose like he had the year before. He outworked North Hagerstown senior Brendan Colbert, and earned a 3-1 decision.
But even with the state title, the loss from his freshman year has never gone away. It drives him to try to win three state titles and be the top ranked wrestler in the country. He is currently ranked 14th at 152 pounds by Flowrestling.
"Instead of taking a little mental break during practice, instead of getting up slow and taking someone down easy and working through it and just saying I'm tired," Kraisser said, "I'm going to work as hard as I can because that moment will just flash through my head. It makes you push when no one is looking. ... It's the little things."
He continued to put in the work throughout this offseason, searching for the best tournaments the county has to offer.
He finished second at the U.S. FILA Cadet Freestyle National Championships in Akron, Ohio, at 63 kilograms. A win would have put him on the World Team.
"Another thing to just say, all right, I want to do that, so time to work harder," Kraisser said.
He gets his unique drive to compete and to be the best from older brother.
"Looking up at Nathan, and seeing him and how well he's doing in college, I just think, 'hey, I want to be there. I want to be one step behind you each time. As you're getting better, I'm getting better. If you do something great, I want to do something great.'" Kraisser said. "So that motivates and drives me. ... I got to step it up if I want to be at his level."
In July, Kraisser looked to top his fourth-place finish in the Cadet Greco-Roman tournament and second in Cadet Freestyle at the Asics Cadet and Junior National Wrestling Championships in Fargo, N.D., but he tore his hamstring in his second freestyle match.
He knew it was bad, and would require several months off the mat.
Kraisser didn't return until mid-October, and two weeks later he made it to the quarterfinals of the Super 32 Tournament before losing 4-2 to the eventual champion, fifth-ranked Thomas Bullard of Georgia, and then lost again to the 13th ranked 152-pounder Kaleb Young, an Iowa commit.
Those losses give Kraisser confidence and desire. He says it's the little things that separate him from the best in the country.
As he prepares for this season, he still has goals to accomplish, like "shocking some people" by winning the prestigious Walsh Ironman tournament Dec. 12-13.
While he also has his eyes set on winning the state title again, his goals are bigger than that.
"I want to be not only the best in Maryland, but I want to be the best of all-time. I don't want to just be oh, there was that good high school from Maryland that won a couple state titles, I want to be, 'oh wow, that's the guy that's ranked first in the nation,'" Kraisser said. "I want that to be me. I want people to be afraid."
River Hill aims for fourth straight county championship
Even though River Hill graduated three state champions, don't expect it to concede the top spot without a fight.
The Hawks return two county champions — 113-pound junior Matt Shealy and senior heavyweight Tyler Smith — and 2013 county champion Brian Kirby is back after an injury sidelined him for most of last season.
River Hill has won three straight county titles and 41 consecutive county matches since a 42-16 loss at Glenelg on Dec. 21, 2010.
"We have a lot of returners and guys who dedicated a lot of time in the offseason to prepare for this year," said River Hill coach Brandon Lauer. "We have a real solid line-up with no real holes."
Glenelg, coming off a year when it had no state place-winners for the first time in more than a decade, return several key starters.
Reservoir, led by senior twins Trent and Troy Kilcarr, will battle Glenelg and River Hill for the county dual meet title.
Oakland Mills, however, could steal the county title away from the usual top teams.
"Oakland Mills is really going to be one of the strongest teams this year," said Mt. Hebron coach Todd DeCrispino. "They have a lot of kids up from junior league and they return a lot."
"I think the county is going to be as wide open and competitive as it has been," said Reservoir coach Andy McIntyre. "We set a high bar by crowning seven state champions last season. With only two back and a lot of teams graduating a lot of quality wrestlers, it should be fun and exciting to see who is going to make a run for the top team."
Shea Conway returns as Howard's coach after being forced to take a year off because of a school policy that a first-year teacher can't be a head coach.
Nick Sylor takes over for long-time county coach Jeff Starnes as coach at Wilde Lake. Sylor, who won a sectional title at Fillmore High School in upstate New York as a high school wrestler, volunteered with the Wildecats last year.
Around the mats
The season kicks off with several county teams at tournaments, including the Scorpion Duals at Oakland Mills, on Dec. 5. Here is a preview for each local team:
2013-14 record: 2-9 in county, 4-11 overall, 11th at county tournament
Coach: Bruce Lindblad, fourth season (18th overall)
Top wrestlers: Seniors Alec Lewin (145), Josh Pickens (145/152) and Gahmyrie Jones (170); junior Willie Hampton (113/120); sophomore Cito Altamirano (138); freshman Stephen Frazier (106)
Non-league opponents: at Dunbar (Jan. 8)
Scouting report: Atholton returns several key seniors who have spent several seasons on varsity, and bring in some new faces that will help the Raiders immediately. Hampton is a transfer student from Chicago who coach Lindblad said is one of the best wrestlers on the team. Freshman Stephen Frazier was a junior leaguer with the Vipers and gives the Raiders a rare newcomer with prior experience on the mats. They have 35 wrestlers on the team, which Lindblad said is the most they have ever had, and they will fill more of the varsity lineup. Look for the Raiders to grow as the season goes on, and to be a team to watch in the next few seasons.
2013-14 record: 2-9, 7-13, eighth
Coach: Cliff Kraisser, second season
Top wrestlers: Senior Steven Wysocki (182/195); junior Austin Kraisser* (160/152)
Non-league opponents: at DeMatha (Dec. 23), vs. Oakdale (Feb. 6)
Scouting report: Other than Kraisser, Centennial doesn't have a lot of experience on the mats this season. Jacob Blyukher (106), Cameron Neilon (113), Amro Narmouq (126/132), Ammar Narmouq (132/138), Savya Konkalmatt (126/132), Mac McGuire (132/138), Mark Horton (152/160), Niall Musonda (170/182) and Mark Thurmond (220) are all up from JV and are expected to be in the varsity lineup. The Eagles have 22 wrestlers in the room, so look for the Eagles to improve throughout the season.
2013-14 record: 10-1, 19-2, third
Coach: Matt Bichner, second season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Mike Budock (152/160) and Austin Twigg (195/220); junior Parker Griffie (138/145)
Non-league opponents: at Damascus (Dec. 17), at Chesapeake (Jan. 3), at Parkdale (Jan. 10)
Scouting report: Glenelg graduated three-time state qualifier Austin Pagnotta (93 career wins), two-time state qualifiers Troy Walter (72 career wins) and Craig Burris, and last year's 170-pound county champion Joe Zoller (90 wins). After a down year in regards to having no state place-winners for the first time in years, the Gladiators have a consistent lineup and will compete for the county dual title this year just as they have for the past decade.
2013-14 record: 3-8, 3-11, ninth
Coach: Bill Smith, second season (10th overall)
Top wrestlers: Seniors Anthony Solis (132), Ben Morrill (120) and Jeremy Nelson (285); junior Darren Ketchum (126)
Scouting report: Hammond returns one of the best wrestlers in the county in county finalist Anthony Solis, along with county finalist Jeremy Nelson. But with five or six wrestlers who can contend for top spots in the postseason tournaments, look for the Golden Bears to improve upon their 10th place county tournament placement from a season ago.
2013-14 record: 4-7, 14-15, 10th
Coach: Shea Conway, first season (second overall)
Top wrestlers: Seniors Nick Williams (126) and Bryan Crumback (152/145); sophomore Darian Kassiri (113/120)
Non-league opponents: at Meade (Jan. 17), at Owings Mills (Jan. 31), at Severna Park (Feb. 6)
Scouting report: Howard returns last season's 106-pound county finalist Darian Kassiri, along with four-year varsity starters Nick Williams and Bryan Crumback. The Lions will fill about 11 or 12 of the 14 varsity spots, and while they are young and inexperienced, they have 31 wrestlers in the room and have a bright future. Coach Conway expects his team to compete to be in the middle of the pack in the county, and he hopes to improve upon last season's final record.
2013-14 record: 0-11, 5-13, 12th
Coach: Matt Bogusz, second season
Top wrestlers: Senior Matt Gilbert (160/170); sophomore Nick Epstein (120)
Non-league opponents: vs. Century (Dec. 23), vs. South Carroll (Feb. 2), vs. Glen Burnie (Feb. 9)
Scouting report: Long Reach graduated one of the most successful wrestlers in program history in state qualifier Deon Williams (195), who was a match away from placing and is now wrestling at a small school in Iowa. County placers Gilbert and Epstein return for the Lightning, and Bogusz expects hopes the team will continue to build into a competitive wrestling program in the next few years.
2013-14 record: 6-5, 19-7, seventh
Coach: Jason Conley, 10th season (12th overall)
Top wrestlers: Seniors Zach Moody (132), Ben Switlick (182) and Alex Zabaldo (285); junior Romtin Habibi (120); sophomore Chris Spano (106)
Non-league opponents: vs. Northeast (Jan. 15), vs. South Carroll (Jan. 29)
Scouting report: Marriotts Ridge graduated 195 pound fifth-place state finisher Chris Park, but they return four other wrestlers who won a match at last year's state tournament. Chris Spano, a returning 1A/2A South regional champion at 106 pounds, is a potential county champion in the lower weights this season, and the Mustangs should compete for a top-three spot in the county.
2013-14 record: 7-4, 21-7, fifth
Coach: Todd DeCrispino, eighth season (26th overall)
Top wrestlers: Seniors Jeff Hayden (132), Connor Strunk (160) and Nick Suri (285); sophomore Jimmy Hayden (126)
Non-league opponents: vs. Catonsville (Jan. 10), vs. South River (Feb. 2), at Tuscarora (Feb. 9)
Scouting report: Although county champion and first-team all-county 113-pounder Josh Kendrick has moved to Virginia, Mt. Hebron will still be one of the county's best tournament teams with two of the best wrestlers in the county in state finalist Jeff Hayden and third-place state finisher Strunk. Also, Suri finished 19-10 on varsity last season and is expected to compete for a county title. The Vikings have a full varsity lineup, and they look to be able to compete with some of the better teams in the county.
2013-14 record: 7-4, 21-9, fourth
Coach: Brad Howell, 16th season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Jaron Smith* (170), Dakota Thompson (132), Julian Capino (145), Zach Vincent (195), Matt Claxton (138), Alex Asifo (152) and Sidique Furet (182); freshman Kyle Farace (106)
Non-league opponents: at Calvert Hall (Dec. 11), vs. Meade (Jan. 15), at Century (Jan. 24)
Scouting report: Oakland Mills perhaps returns the most talent from last year compared any other county team, and they are expected to be a serious contender for the county dual and tournament titles. Led by returning state champion Smith, and sixth-place state finisher Vincent, the Scorpions have seven seniors who wrestled at the state tournament last year back for another year. Freshman Kyle Farace, the younger brother of three-time state champion and 2012 graduate Tony Farace, looks to follow in his brother's footsteps.
2013-14 record: 9-2, 19-2, second
Coach: Andrew McIntyre, fifth season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Trent Kilcarr (138) and Troy Kilcarr (132); junior A.J. Strott (182)
Non-league opponents: at Northeast (Dec. 6), at South River (Dec. 23) at Arundel (Feb. 5)
Scouting report: Reservoir graduated some of the most successful wrestlers in program history in state champion Mason Kilcarr, third-place state finisher Wes Beattie, county champion Hans Wicklein and county-finalist Michael Sullivan. But with another Kilcarr in the fold in 106 pound freshman Reece Kilcarr, experienced junior league freshman Todd Del Tufo in the mix at 145 pounds, and 182 pound third-place county finisher last season A.J. Strott, the Gators expect to pick up where they left off last season.
2013-14 record: 11-0, 29-6, first
Coach: Brandon Lauer, 10th season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Brian Kirby (220), Tyler Smith* (285) and Alex Potts (126); juniors Matt Shealy* (113), Nathan Dustin (132) and Colin Altman (138); sophomore Brady Daniel (182)
Non-league opponents: at Chesapeake (Dec. 11), vs. Tuscarora (Jan. 3), at Digital Harbor (Jan. 15)
Scouting report: The Hawks won the county dual and tournament championships, as well as the 3A/4A East regional duals and tournament last season, but graduated three county and state champions – Michael Beck (120), Logan Kirby (195) and Howard County Wrestler of the Year Cory Daniel (220). However, don't expect them too fall far from the county ranks this year. They return several state qualifiers and have one of the most consistent lineups in the county and state.
2013-14 record: 5-6, 14-17, sixth
Coach: Nick Sylor, first season
Top wrestlers: Senior Ernie Fermin (152/160); junior Taylor Brosnan (195); sophomore Edward Yun (138)
Non-league opponents: at South Carroll (Dec. 8)
Scouting report: Wilde Lake graduated 152-pound state runner-up and county champion Malik Jackson and 126-pound county champion Noah Polonsky, and under first year coach Nick Sylor the Wildecats are looking to rebuild. Ernie Ferman finished sixth in the county tournament at 170 pounds last season and will lead the Wildecats this season.
2013-14 record: 3-2 MIAA B Conference, 9-2, 14th at MIAA tournament
Coach: Douglas Jesse, second season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Eddie Howlette (145) and Adam Dophwell (126); juniors Reid Chaconas (170) and Demetrius Ravenell (195); sophomore D.J. Borowski (152)
Scouting report: Still in the early stages of the program, Glenelg Country has a solid mix of young talent and veteran upperclassmen. The Dragons return four wrestlers who were each a match away from placing at the state tournament, and they look to avenge conference losses to Pallotti and Severn.