Everything Centennial senior Jason Kraisser does when he laces up his wrestling shoes is business like. His practice habits that include staying beyond the required hours or trekking across the region on holidays, weekends or off days to find quality opponents are unlike almost anyone else.
His diet doesn't resemble most high school athletes, either, and it's not because he cuts any weight; he just likes to operate to the best of his ability like any athlete at the top of their craft would, like a well-oiled machine operating without any hiccups.
Most don't see the majority of his work but the most obvious sign of his professional-like attitude to the sport of wrestling comes after his matches, of which 159 of the 163 he competed in — and the last 101 over his four-year varsity career — ended with his hand being raised. While most wrestlers huff and puff their way back to the bench, eagerly sip on cooled water and spend minutes catching their breath on a comfortably padded chair, Kraisser can be found behind the bench or in the back gym jogging for several minutes. A cool down, he calls it.
Why does he do it? It's a similar answer he would give for most questions about his talents on the mat.
"I don't remember exactly when it started but I just always remember doing it and I remember my brothers would do it," said Kraisser, who is the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Wrestler of the Year for the third straight season and The Baltimore Sun Wrestler of the Year for the second consecutive year. "They would tell me that you've got to cool down after every single match; it's just got to be part of your routine, it's got to feel natural. It's just part of the schedule. My brothers do it, so I was like, all right, well I'm definitely doing it now just out of respect for them and trying to be like them."
"Jason's very serious," coach and father Cliff Kraisser said succinctly.
His routine changes for no situation or moment. Take this year's state tournament as an example. One of the main storylines going into the event at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro the first weekend of March was that Kraisser was just four victories away from becoming the eighth public-school wrestler to win four Maryland state championships. History was on the line.
So when Kraisser, competing in the 4A/3A 152-pound bracket, easily won his first three bouts by fall to reach the finals, his routine never changed. He quietly jogged around dejected wrestlers who lost and those celebrating wins by collecting praise of coaches and teammates. In his final varsity high school match against Huntingtown's Josh Stokes, a rematch of last year's 145-pound final that Kraisser won by 13 points, there were so many moments that epitomized the career of one of the greatest wrestlers to come through Howard County.
His smooth, never-worried style was on display early in the bout. When it looked like Stokes had Kraisser in trouble with a cradle locked up, Kraisser never panicked and used the proper technique to gain the upper hand and earned a takedown. And then he went to work.
Kraisser scored two nearfall points at the end of the period, then closed out the second stanza with another takedown to enter the third period with a 6-1 advantage.
Most wrestlers up by five points with positional choice in the final period would coast to the finish line, take their victory and move on to the next. Not Kraisser. Instead, he added six more points, including three more nearfalls, in the first minute, and up 14-3 with 40 seconds remaining, he worked. He worked so hard that Stokes — down by 11 points — was warned for stalling. No lead is big enough to satisfy a perfectionist like Kraisser and that was clear to everyone who got a chance to see him compete.
"I really admire his tenacity. You can tell he's never satisfied to win close. It's something I try to instill in our guys, to just keep scoring and get after it," Glenelg coach Matt Bichner said. "... There were a lot of matches he could've packed it in after the first period and won close but you see him going for things and trying to score points and just keep working to score. That's the tenacity and never being satisfied."
That state championship match marked Kraisser's 101st straight victory dating back to the middle of his sophomore season. He went 40-0 with 33 pins this winter and 159-4 with 112 falls over his career, which is five more career wins than his brother Austin had and a new school record. His last state title was No. 12 for the Kraisser family — Nathan won four, Austin won three and Cliff won one — and he and Nathan are the only set of brothers on the short four-time state champion list.
"It was the closing that I was looking for," Kraisser said. "The best way to describe it is hard work pays off. Doing all these extra things that people aren't doing — staying after practice, working hard, not skipping any reps — they add up. ... For the most part, I did what I set out to do."
During the season, he allowed just one takedown and two reversals. One each came against a two-time state champion from Georgia, Charlie Darracott of Buford, in the finals at Mount Mat Madness. Kraisser beat the then-nationally ranked grappler, 9-5, to capture his second crown at Mount Mat Madness and earn the tournament's most outstanding wrestler award.
"It was probably the peak of my senior season in that it kind of captured what I set out to do my freshman year and my sophomore year coming up short," Kraisser said of winning Mount Mat Madness, where all four of his career losses came in his first two seasons. "Just being able to get the accolades there, it just put a nice finish to it and left a good taste in my mouth."
In league matches, Kraisser bumped up two weight classes and defeated Atholton state champion Sean Billups by decision, pinned Howard's third-place state finisher Shayan Kassiri and beat state placers Will Vaxmonsky of Marriotts Ridge and Jacob Jones of Glenelg via technical fall.
His career accomplishments are lengthy: four Howard County, 4A/3A East region and Warpath Invitational at Franklin titles; two Mount Mat Madness crowns; a national championship at the NHSCA National Tournament as a freshman; and a national ranking of No. 9 by InterMat at the end of this season. He's only the 11th wrestler to win four Howard County titles, a list both Nathan and Austin are on.
Off the mat, however, Kraisser does have other interests. In the fall he set a goal to help the Centennial boys cross country team win a state championship. By the end, he was one of its top-five runners and finished 25th at the 3A state meet to help the Eagles win the team title.
He's active in his church as well — Grace Community Church in Fulton. He missed the NHSCA National Tournament March 29-31 because he went on a church retreat instead.
"He does have other interests. It's easy to see, if you pay attention, when they've had enough wrestling," Cliff Kraisser said. "They don't have to do it year-round when they're in elementary school or middle school. It's obvious when you see the energy level go down. Then it's time to go play lacrosse or baseball or soccer or whatever it is. ... When he was running cross country, he took that real seriously."
Kraisser will follow his older brother's footsteps and wrestle for coach Cary Kolat at Campbell University in North Carolina, where Nathan became the school's first All-American last year and Austin will be a redshirt junior.
Kraisser's legacy will be remembered for decades to come. In the moments after winning his fourth state championship, the crowd rose to its feet and serenaded Kraisser with a standing ovation, a token of appreciation for all he had done and the way he represented the sport. He did it the right way and everyone knew it.
Kraisser couldn't execute a backflip like his older brother Nathan did when he won his fourth state championship for Centennial in 2012. That wouldn't have been his style anyway. To celebrate, Kraisser simply raised four fingers in the air, shook hands with the opposing coaches and jogged off the mat to the back of the arena to complete his cool down.
Also named to first-team All-County are:
106 lbs: Shehzan Dahya, senior, Hammond
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 6th; Record: 43-7
Dahya was one of the most improved wrestlers in Howard County this winter, as he won county and 2A-1A South region titles after placing fourth and third at the events last year, respectively. The two-time state qualifier placed sixth at the state tournament and finished with 17 falls and 43 victories in 50 matches.
Dahya upended No. 1 seed David Ridenour of Glenelg in the county finals with a 9-6 win and then captured the region championship as the No. 2 seed with a commanding 5-2 victory over Oakland Mills' Alex Tamai. At the state tournament, Dahya lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual state champion but won two matches in the consolation bracket, including a major decision in the blood round, to guarantee a spot on the podium.
113: David Panda, junior, Atholton
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 4th; Record: 39-3
Panda went undefeated during the regular season and won titles at the Falcon Invitational at Winters Mill and Grapple at the Brook at Springbrook. He dominated at the county tournament and won by fall in 0:24, 0:46 and 1:51 to win his second league title and then avenged his first loss to Stephen Decatur's Jagger Clapsadle in the 4A/3A East region final.
At the state tournament, Panda reached the semifinals before losing to the three-time state champion Brent Lorin of Bel Air and placed fourth for the second straight year. Panda, a third-year wrestler who had 23 pins this season, will enter his senior season with a career record of 81-23.
120: Jalen Cornelius, junior, Oakland Mills
County: 2nd; Region: 1st; State: DNP; Record: 32-10
Cornelius had his best season to date this winter. He won the SnOverlea Invitational during the regular season and earned the No. 1 seed at the county tournament, where he lost to Hammond's Keneth Rios by a point. Cornelius, however, avenged the loss the next week by pinning Rios to win his first 2A/1A South region title and then went 2-2 at the state tournament, losing in the blood round.
He finished the year with 13 pins and four major decisions, 30 takedowns and 17 reversals.
120: Keneth Rios, junior, Hammond
County: 1st; Region: 2nd; State: DNP; Record: 30-8
Like many Hammond wrestlers this season, Rios took a big leap on the mat and proved it throughout the season. He won the Hammond Invitational in the regular season and then as the No. 5 seed won his first county title by beating Oakland Mills' Jalen Cornelius for the second time, 5-4.
He lost the rematch to Cornelius in the regional final and then went 0-2 at the state tournament in his second straight appearance at the event. Rios, a third-year wrestler, finished the year with 14 falls.
126: Kevin Hansberger, senior, Glenelg
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 6th; Record: 39-8
Hansberger looked as confident as ever this season and the results back that up. He won the Damascus Holiday Tournament with a 12-6 win over Damascus' Michael Emerick and placed sixth at the prestigious War on the Shore tournament at Stephen Decatur. He avenged a one-point regular-season loss to Atholton's Drew Pruett with a 6-4 victory to win his second county title and earn the Glenn L. Devane Outstanding Wrestler Award.
Hansberger won the 2A/1A South region title and then placed sixth at the state tournament for the second straight year. He finished the year with 24 falls and ended his four-year varsity career with a record of 142-44.
126: Drew Pruett, senior, Atholton
County: 2nd; Region: 3rd; State: 4th; Record: 38-5
Pruett, a 106-pound county champion a year ago, jumped to 126 this season and had plenty of success. He won the Falcon Invitational at Winters Mill and placed second at the Grapple at the Brook at Springbrook in the regular season and earned the No. 1 seed at the county tournament thanks in large part to a one-point victory over Glenelg's Kevin Hansberger.
Pruett, however, lost the rematch, 6-4, in his third trip to the county finals and rebounded to place third at the 4A/3A East regional tournament after losing to the eventual state champion. He reached the state semifinals but lost a second time to Northwest's Siavash Sarvestani in overtime en route to finishing in fourth place. His five losses on the season all came against state placers and he finished his four-year varsity career with a record of 122-35.
132: Will Henrickson, senior, River Hill
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 2nd; Record: 44-1
Few wrestlers in the county this season were as dominant as Henrickson. A pinning machine, he finished the year with 40 falls and cruised to his second straight county title by pinning his three opponents, including Oakland Mills' Quan Dunscomb in the finals.
Henrickson got two more pins and beat Dunscomb again en route to his second 2A/1A South region title and then reached his first state final with two pins and a technical fall but was pinned by North Caroline's Ryan Bauer in the championship match. Henrickson, who wrestled in Colorado for two and a half seasons, went 142-21 in his varsity career.
138: Jared Thomas, senior, Glenelg
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 2nd; Record: 45-1
Coming off a state championship, Thomas was even better this season and cleaned up his technique and conditioning to reach a new level. He won the Damascus Holiday Tournament for the fourth time, War on the Shore for the first time and finished the regular season undefeated.
He cruised to his third county title, beating River Hill's Michael Crisitello, 16-6, in the final, and then pinned his way through the 2A/1A South region to earn his second region crown. At the state tournament, Thomas had no trouble reaching the finals with a technical fall, a pin and a 7-0 decision, but he couldn't defend his state title and was pinned by Owings Mills' Phil Smith in a back-and-forth match that many called the main event of the tournament. Thomas, who wrestled at Good Counsel as a freshman, had 24 pins this season, was 175-18 in his four years and 130-6 in three years at Glenelg.
145: Shayan Kassiri, junior, Howard
County: 1st; Region: 2nd; State: 3rd; Record: 36-5
Kassiri reached the county finals a year ago but that would be the highlight of his campaign as he failed to qualify for the state tournament and placed sixth at the 4A/3A North region tournament. Kassiri had no such letdown this season. He won titles at Mad Mats and the Severna Park Scuffle in the regular season and, as the No. 1 seed, won his first county title with a 3-2 victory over Marriotts Ridge's Will Vaxmonsky.
At the regional tournament, Kassiri reached the final and forfeited the match due to injury but qualified for his first state tournament, where he rebounded from an opening-round loss to win five straight matches in the consolation bracket, four of which were decided by two points or fewer, to finish third.
152: Ethan Bohan, junior, Marriotts Ridge
County: 3rd; Region: 2nd; State: 4th; Record: 16-4
Bohan missed the majority of the regular season but returned in mid-January and won the Severna Park Scuffle in his first action of the season. As the No. 3 seed at the county tournament, Bohan lost to Oakland Mills' Dylan Watt in the semifinals and placed third but avenged that loss a week later at the 2A/1A South regional, a 2-0 victory.
Bohan, who won a region title and finished third at the state tournament a year ago, lost in the first round at states but won four consecutive decisions, including two in overtime and one against Watt, en route to a fourth-place finish.
160: Anthony Morales, senior, Oakland Mills
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 4th; Record: 37-6
After placing second at counties and fourth at regions last year, Morales turned heads with his postseason performance this season. The three-year captain won the SnOverlea Invitational in the regular season but peaked at the right time and avenged several previous defeats to Glenelg's Jacob Jones, including a 14-3 major decision Jones won in the regular season. He beat Jones in overtime to win his first county title and then won his first regional title.
At the state tournament, Morales lost in overtime to the eventual state champion, Roell Ngounou of Owings Mills, and then beat Jones again in overtime to reach the consolation final, where he lost an overtime decision. He finished the year with 11 pins, two technical falls and seven major decisions.
170: Sean Billups, senior, Atholton
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 1st; Record: 38-3
Billups took an undefeated record into last year's state tournament but was upset in the quarterfinal round, his only loss as a junior. Although he lost three times this season, he left no doubt on the mats. He won the Falcon Invitational and his second Grapple at the Brook title and beat Glenelg's Drew Sotka in the regular season, and in the postseason he beat Sotka again to win his second county title.
The No. 2 seed at the 4A/3A East regional, Billups handed then-defending state champion John Podsednik of Leonardtown his first loss of the season in the finals, and in a rematch with the state championship on the line, Billups beat him again, 9-6, to become the Raiders' first state champion since 2008. He had 23 pins this season and ended his varsity career with a record of 139-21.
170: Drew Sotka, junior, Glenelg
County: 2nd; Region: 1st; State: 1st; Record: 40-6
Sotka was one of the Gladiators' most consistent performers this season. He won the Damascus Holiday Tournament and War on the Shore, and although he lost a one-point decision to Atholton's Sean Billups in the county finals, he rallied the following week to cruise through the 2A/1A South region and win his second regional title.
At the state tournament, Sotka reached his first state final with a technical fall, a pin and a 5-0 decision and then avenged a previous loss to Hereford's Jimmy Kells with a 5-4 victory to keep the 2A/1A 170-pound state title in the family, as his older brother Max won it last year.
182: Jake Arnone, senior, Glenelg
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 6th; Record: 34-9
Arnone quietly went about his business in the loaded Gladiators lineup and won his first county championship by pinning his way through the tournament with falls in 0:07, 1:42 and 0:56. He didn't need much more time on the mat at the 2A/1A South regional, either, and pinned his first opponent in 19 seconds and won the title with a 9-0 major decision.
Although Arnone lost a one-point decision in the quarterfinals at states, he won two consecutive matches in the consolation bracket, including a 7-2 decision in the blood round, and placed sixth. He finished the year with 19 pins and owns a career record of 64-29.
195: Sam Alsheimer, senior, Glenelg
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 1st; Record: 43-1
Alsheimer barely broke a sweat throughout much of his dominating postseason. Fueled by losing in the state final in the final seconds as a junior, Alsheimer was a force this year and won the Damascus Holiday Tournament and War on the Shore in the regular season before capturing his third county title with falls in 13, 23 and 46 seconds. It was no different at the 2A/1A South regional, as he pinned his three opponents in 11, 55 and 44 seconds to win it for a third time.
Alsheimer continued his streak by pinning his first state tournament opponent in 25 seconds, and after a 7-2 quarterfinal victory and a pin in the semifinals, he won his first state championship by pinning Colonel Richardson's Jordan Gabriel in 3:17. Alsheimer, a three-time state placer, finished the year with 30 pins and his career with a record of 132-19.
220: Loic Tueguo, senior, Hammond
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 3rd; Record: 48-2
Tueguo led by example over his final two varsity seasons and spearheaded the Golden Bears turnaround. He won the Hammond Invitational during the regular season and then pinned his way through the county tournament to earn his second league title.
Two more pins and a 7-2 decision at the 2A/1A South regional gave him his second region crown, and at the state tournament he reached the semifinals but lost to the eventual state champion. He rebounded to place third for the second straight year, had 33 pins and set a school record for wins in a season.
285: Ernie Smith, senior, Oakland Mills
County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 2nd; Record: 30-4
An All-County football player, Smith was one of the most athletic heavyweights in the area and it translated on the mats. The two-time team captain clinched the Scorpions' county tournament title with a 5-1 victory over Reservoir's Dylan Altman, his first league championship, and then won his first regional crown by securing three falls in 1:03, 0:15 and 1:20.
Smith carried the momentum into the state tournament, where he secured a decision and two falls, including a 17-second pin in the semifinals, to reach the finals, where he lost to Dunbar's three-time state champion Jorden Pryor. Smith ended the year with 19 falls.
106 lbs: David Ridenour, junior, Glenelg
113: Eric Robinson, senior, River Hill
120: Jonah Richardson, sophomore, River Hill
126: Isaiah Williams, junior, Oakland Mills
132: Quan Dunscomb, senior, Oakland Mills
138: Michael Crisitello, sophomore, River Hill
145: Bryce Kampert, junior, Mt. Hebron
145: Will Vaxmonsky, junior, Marriotts Ridge
152: Dylan Watt, senior, Oakland Mills
160: Jacob Jones, senior, Glenelg
170: Lino Gomez, senior, Long Reach
182: Michael Johnsin, senior, Atholton
195: Jake Witlin, senior, Mt. Hebron
220: Massimo Conti, sophomore, Glenelg
285: Dylan Altman, junior, Reservoir