When Nathan Kraisser burst onto the scene as a 103-pound freshman in 2008 at Centennial, spectators and wrestlers alike were in awe of his flawless technique. It was a step above the rest and perhaps better than any ninth grader to ever compete in Howard County before him.
His precision helped him become a nationally-recognized wrestler by winning the Tulsa Nationals — one of the country’s toughest junior league tournaments — as an eighth grader, win 152 high school matches, become the fifth Maryland public school wrestler to win four state titles and earn a top-15 national ranking as a senior. In college, he secured ACC Freshman of the Year honors at the University of North Carolina and then became Campbell University’s first All-American in 2017.
When his younger brother Austin followed in 2012 as a 138-pound freshman, it was his physicality and in-your-face style that had people excited for what was to come.
His bulldog-mentality and ability to wear opponents down led him to win 154 matches, make four trips to the state finals and win three championships, earn a top-five national ranking in his final varsity season and the opportunity to compete collegiately alongside Nathan at Campbell.
And then in 2015 came Jason, the third youngest of seven Kraisser children and the fourth to don an Eagles singlet — the fifth in the family if you include Cliff, the family patriarch and current Centennial head coach who won a state championship in 1983 and wrestled at Virginia Tech.
It’s hard to provide context for the type of expectations bestowed upon Jason Kraisser as a 132-pound freshman because there are no comparisons for the Kraissers — they are in a class of their own in Maryland wrestling history. It’s safe to say no family in this state has collectively won more than the 11 state wrestling championships they currently have, and certainly none have done so at a public school with the type of humility they have displayed along the way.
“They’re very similar but they are all different. Jason might be meaner,” Cliff Kraisser said about comparing the wrestling styles of the three brothers. “Nathan could just out-technique a lot of guys and Austin would try to bulldoze them, and Jason is just mean.
“I don’t like wrestling Jason in practice. I don’t know where it comes from. Looking back on it, even in junior league he was like that, he just didn’t have the skill to use it correctly. He’s never trying to hurt someone — that’s not what I mean by mean — but man, when he steps in that circle, he’s ready to go. He’s not playing around at all.”
Jason Kraisser was expected to be great from the start, and he was. He was a star as a freshman, going 40-3 that season and sweeping the postseason tournaments, and he capped off the campaign with an impressive 8-3 victory in the state championship-match to add to his collection of trophies.
After the season, he earned the outstanding wrestler award after winning the NHSCA 132-pound freshman national championship with five pins in five matches.
Last year he had similar results — too good for the competition at the county, regional and state level to go 2-for-2 in state titles and finish the season 40-1 to get halfway to joining the elite list of four-time state champions. Capturing the first two are the hardest, and he made winning them look casual.
He earned last year’s Howard County Times Wrestler of the Year honor, which went to Austin once and Nathan four times, and then he became an All-American with an eighth-place finish at the junior freestyle nationals in Fargo, N.D. last summer to solidify himself as one of the country’s best prep wrestlers.
But this year was different. Jason Kraisser’s margin of victories and his performance on the mat hadn’t quite been up to his own standard. He still had plenty to accomplish, like winning the prestigious Mount Mat Madness tournament where he suffered all four of his previous high school defeats. Beyond that, however, he didn’t want to only separate himself from the pack — the other 99.9 percent of wrestlers in the state — he wanted to separate himself from his brothers.
Accomplishing that was easier said than done. He sticks to a strict diet during the season — no “empty calories” or soda or junk food — and he lifts weights after practices. But on the mat, what others, including Cliff, noticed is that he has taken the best qualities from his brothers — Nathan’s technique and Austin’s physicality — and mixed them together and become what he became this season.
Jason Kraisser, who is this year’s Howard County Times Wrestler of the Year and the Baltimore Sun All-Metro Wrestler of the Year, was a man on a mission. Every match and practice meant something because it was an opportunity to get better, to fine-tune the minute details of his technique or learn something that would seem insignificant to the ordinary wrestler but would be the difference between a win and a loss to the world-class wrestler.
“When you’re in the practice room for those two hours, it’s about dedicating yourself to getting the most out of it that you possibly can,” he said.
Jason Kraisser (Centennial) beats Josh Stokes (Huntingtown),16-3, in the 3A/4A 145-pound state championship match at The Show Place Arena on March 5, 2018.
The efforts were evident this season for the 145-pound junior. Jason Kraisser finished the season 39-0 with 34 pins, four of which came in 3 minutes, 26 seconds or less at Mount Mat Madness, which he won for the first time with an imposing 4-2 victory over National Preps finalist Chase McCollum of Haverford (Pa.) in the championship bout.
Cliff Kraisser said even he didn’t quite understand how much winning that tournament meant to Jason, and it served as an appetizer for the postseason. He pinned his way through the county tournament and had two more en route to winning his third 3A/4A East regional title. He had three more pins in a total of 4:00 at the state tournament, which he won by beating Huntingtown’s Josh Stokes via a 16-3 major decision in the final.
In Centennial’s 11 county dual meets, Jason Kraisser had 11 pins. None of it was lost on him. One of his main goals this year was to make sure he got the most out of every second on the mat.
“[Taking every match seriously] is a big thing that I think really helped me broaden the gap for me this year,” said Jason Kraisser, who owns a career record of 119-4 and is ranked sixth in the country by InterMat and 10th by FloWrestling. “Once you get to that level you’re expected to compete at the same standard every match, so you’ve got to be able to treat every match the same, whether it’s a dual meet or the state finals. Every single match you wrestle is important and everyone out there is gunning for you.”
It didn’t go unnoticed, either. Glenelg coach Matt Bichner, who won a state championship in 2006, said what stands out from afar about Jason Kraisser is his freewheeling experimentation during matches. He’s not afraid to try new things, even if they are sometimes unsuccessful. It’s a quality that requires unrelenting confidence in every aspect of a wrestler’s skillset.
“The one thing I really like about Jason is I think he just lets it fly on the mat,” Bichner said. “He’ll give up some points every now and then because he might go out there and try something, but he’s good enough that he doesn’t let that stuff get in his head. He just comes right back and battles and usually wins the match.
“That’s what’s awesome to see from him. I try to tell our guys to go out there and don’t be afraid to give up points or not be afraid to fail, and I think Jason does a good job of letting it fly. When you’re that loose good things happen.”
Despite all the success, Jason Kraisser knows there is more to be done. He still has one more year left to compete in high school, and leave it to him to leave a lasting note that many expect will end with his hand being raised for a fourth time at the state tournament, which would make him the eighth in Maryland history to do so.
And then college looms. He will join Austin and coach and mentor Cary Kolat at Campbell. Watching the Camels compete at the NCAA National Championships in Cleveland in mid-March, Jason Kraisser told his father that’s where he sees himself in two years, competing for a national title in the orange singlet.
“Winning a state title is awesome, it’s great. But at the same time I’m always keeping my head up and looking at the next step,” he said. “College is right around the corner and I’m working toward that. High school is nice, but you’ve got to prove yourself at the next level, too.”
After wrestling most of the season at 113 pounds, Pruett dropped to 106 for the postseason and won his first county championship in his second trip to the finals in one of the deepest weight classes.
The junior lost just four matches on the year — twice to eventual state champion Yonas Harris of Northwest, once to the state runner-up and once to the third-place finisher — and at the state tournament he had three pins and an 11-0 major decision for his four victories en route to a fifth-place finish.
Panda was one of the biggest surprises of the season, as the second-year wrestler rolled to his first county title with an 11-5 decision in the semifinals and an 8-2 victory over last year’s county champion, Logan Gwin of Glenelg, in the championship.
He also had one of Atholton’s most crucial victories when he pinned Stephen Decatur’s Jagger Clapsadle, who finished as a state runner-up at 106 pounds, in the Raiders’ 36-33 upset win in the 3A East regional duals semifinal.
Panda finished third at the regional tournament and upset North regional champion Colin Acton of Urbana to reach the state semifinals before falling to the eventual state champion and finishing in fourth place.
Bohan had a big freshman year, finishing 43-5 and winning a match at states, but this winter he continued his regular season success into the postseason. He wrestled much of the year at 126 or 132 pounds, but dropped to 120 for the county tournament and reached the finals as the No. 1 seed, where he fell to Mt. Hebron’s Yahir Lemus in overtime.
Bohan cruised to win his first 1A/2A South region title and bounced back from a quarterfinal loss at the state tournament to win the consolation bracket, avenging his round of eight loss to Loch Raven’s Marquis Kemp with an overtime decision. Bohan finished the season with 27 pins and has a career record of 90-10.
120: Yahir Lemus, senior, Mt. Hebron
County: 1st; Region: 3rd; State: Did not place; Record: 31-9
Lemus placed at all three postseason tournaments last year, as he took third at the county tournament and 4A/3A East regional tournament and sixth at states. This season, he nearly repeated the feat, and above all else he helped Mt. Hebron have one of its best seasons in school history.
He won the county tournament by defeating Marriotts Ridge’s Ethan Bohan in overtime and finished runner-up at the 4A/3A East regional tournament. Lemus went 1-2 at the state tournament in one of the deepest weight classes and wrapped up a stellar career with 99 victories.
Farace assembled one of the greatest careers ever for a Howard County wrestler despite falling short of winning a state title. He won the county and 1A/2A South regional tournament as a junior and finished as a runner-up in each three times, and he reached the state finals his first three seasons before falling to the eventual champion in the semifinals and placing third this season.
Farace avenged his county and regional championship defeats to River Hill’s Will Henrickson by pinning him with his patented cross-face cradle in just 53 seconds in his final match to finish his career with a record of 139-20.
Henrickson transferred from Colorado in early January and immediately burst onto the scene by pinning Marriotts Ridge’s Brett Gladstone in his first match. He lost just twice during the rest of the regular season and then defeated Oakland Mills’ Kyle Farace to win the county and 1A/2A South regional tournaments. He earned the Glenn L. Devane Outstanding Wrestler award for his 8-7 victory over Farace at the county tournament.
Henrickson won three matches at states, two by pin and one via technical fall, and reached the semifinals en route to finishing in fourth place. His four defeats on the season came to wrestlers who placed among the top five in their weight classes at the state tournament.
One of the most exciting grapplers to watch in the county, Thomas excelled in February and March to win his first state championship after placing third as a sophomore. He dominated the county tournament for the second straight year, and although he lost a controversial match in the 1A/2A South regional tournament finals, he bounced back and looked dominant at the state tournament.
Thomas pinned Boonsboro’s Jeffrey Henline in 1:15, beat returning state finalist Tyson McDuffy of Owings Mills, 3-1, in the quarterfinals and then pinned Oakdale’s Wyatt McKoy in 54 seconds in the semifinals. He held on to defeat Dunbar freshman Jalen Jones, 8-7, to win the state title.
Thomas, who also beat Johnny McLaughlin of Damascus, the 1A/2A 126-pound state champion, during the regular season, had 23 pins and 111 takedowns and is 85-5 in his two seasons at Glenelg.
After failing to qualify for the state tournament last season, Blyukher made sure he wouldn’t miss out on the final weekend again. He won two matches by fall at Mount Mat Madness, and at the county tournament he pinned his way into the semifinals and then beat Mt. Hebron’s Bryce Kampert, 9-0, and Howard’s Shayan Kassiri, 10-0, to win his first county title.
Blyukher’s controlling style continued at the 3A/4A East regional tournament, where he shutout his first two opponents and then beat Northeast’s Kyle Preston, 6-4, to win the championship. He finished one win short of placing at the state tournament and ended his career with a record of 111-35.
Frazier as been a mainstay in the Atholton varsity lineup for years and was one of its most consistent wrestlers. Frazier placed fourth at the county tournament last season and this winter he reached the finals, where he was pinned by Wrestler of the Year Jason Kraisser of Centennial.
Frazier placed fourth at the 3A/4A East regional tournament and won a match by forfeit at the state tournament to finish 1-2. He finished his career with a record of 111-33.
Del Tufo’s season would be defined a success based simply on how he fared at the state tournament after the senior fell just short of placing in each of his first three varsity campaigns. Del Tufo, who arguably won more tight matches than any grappler in the county, won the county tournament after beating Glenelg’s Drew Sotka in the semifinals and Mt. Hebron’s Ali Pender, 3-2, via the ultimate tiebreaker in the final.
Del Tufo placed third at the 3A/4A East regional tournament and won four decisions, including another over Pender and a 6-0 shutout victory in the blood round, to finish fifth and place at states for the first time. The four-time state qualifier ended his career with a record of 128-34.
A two-time county champion and three-time finalist, Jones became a more consistent and dominant wrestler this winter. He had 23 pins this season and was key during Glenelg’s run to the state duals finals. Jones pinned eventual state champion Tyler Bauer of North Caroline in the state duals semifinals and carried the momentum into individual postseason, where he won the county tournament with a 14-1 major decision in the semifinals and a 15-4 major decision against Oakland Mills’ Anthony Morales in the finals.
Jones reached the state semifinals to clinch a spot in the top six for the first time but lost a 4-2 decision in a rematch with Bauer and eventually finished fifth. He will enter his senior season with a record of 110-29.
It was clear early in the season that Billups was going to have a big year. The junior avenged two previous postseason defeats to Glenelg’s Max Sotka with an overtime victory in early December and took off from there. He was one of two county wrestlers, the other being Jason Kraisser, to finish the regular season undefeated, and he won a second matchup with Sotka, this time by a score of 7-1, to win his first county title.
Billups beat Broadneck’s Zach Doyle to capture his first regional title, but his undefeated season ended with a 5-4 loss to Linganore’s Michael Bromley in the quarterfinals at the state tournament. He bounced back with four straight victories, the last being a 7-5 overtime decision to avenge his loss to Bromley, in the consolation finals to finish in third place.
One of the most well-conditioned wrestlers in the county, it took some time for Sotka to hit his stride this season after reaching the state finals as a junior. But the senior got better as the season went on, and even after losing in the county finals for a second time in three years to Atholton’s Sean Billups, he dominated the 1A/2A South regional tournament and then won a 5-3 decision and a 9-4 decision to reach the semifinals at the state tournament.
Sotka held on to beat Liberty’s Jake Griffin, 3-2, after riding him out in the ultimate tiebreaker, and in the finals he wrestled one of his best matches and beat Southern-Garrett’s Joe Embleton, 14-3, to win the state title and wrap up his career with a record of 137-41.
There were serious doubts that Alsheimer would even compete this season after he needed two surgeries to repair a broken leg he suffered on the football field in early September. But the senior worked his way back onto the mat and came back in mid-January to help Glenelg reach the state duals finals for the second straight year.
Alsheimer looked as dominant as ever in the postseason, where he won his second straight county title in his third trip to the finals and won his second straight regional title with two pins and an 11-2 major decision.
At the state tournament, Alsheimer made it to his second straight semifinals with a 5-3 overtime victory against returning state finalist Dwayne Johnson of Dunbar but lost a controversial 3-2 decision to Patterson Mill’s Hunter Crowley in overtime in the championship match. He has a career record of 89-18.
Cestone’s unusual wrestling style helped him have one of the best seasons for any Marriotts Ridge grappler in regards to number of victories this winter. He lost just one match during the regular season and then pinned his three opponents in a total of 5 minutes, 53 seconds to win his first county title.
Cestone needed even less time to win his second straight regional crown, as he won three matches by fall in a combined 2:10, but at the state tournament he lost an 8-2 decision in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Cam Farrow of Middletown and then lost his next match, 11-10, to Oakland Mills’ Ernie Smith to fall short of placing.
Tueguo led Hammond’s resurgence this season as a leader by example for a still-young Golden Bears squad that needed to learn how to win. The junior excelled down the stretch and became the first Hammond wrestler to win a county title since 2015 by pinning defending county champion Miles Easterling of Atholton in overtime in the championship, and then became the school’s first regional champion since 2013 by beating Glenelg’s Robbie Baxter, 3-1, in the 1A/2A South regional final.
Tueguo kept the momentum going into the state tournament, where he won a forfeit and a 3-1 decision to reach the semifinals. He bounced back from a defeat there to the eventual champion with a pin and a 3-1 victory to finish third — the first Golden Bears wrestler to place since 2013.
A three-sport athlete, Nordhausen has been one of the most dominant upper weights in the county for several seasons but was a step above the rest this winter. The senior lost just once during the regular season and he pinned all three of his opponents at the county tournament to win before repeating the feat to capture his second straight 3A/4A South regional title.
Nordhausen, who placed fourth at states last year, reached the state semifinals for the second year in a row but this time reached the finals with a 3-2 victory over Kenwood’s Dylan Budka. In the finals, however, he lost, 3-2, to South River’s Ka’Ron Lewis to finish his three years at Mt. Hebron with a record of 110-18. Including his freshman year at Loyola-Blakefield, his career record is 122-30.