Wrestler of the Year, Centennial sophomore Jason Kraisser making his own mark

The shadows Jason Kraisser’s older brothers cast loom large on and off the mat.

It’s essentially unavoidable when you consider Nathan and Austin’s accomplishments include being an NCAA All-American, seven combined state championships, eight region and county championships and countless regular season tournament titles. Together they lost only 14 matches in eight seasons and combined to win 304 at Centennial before moving on to wrestle at the Division-I level.

Jason is reminded of them everywhere he goes, whether it’s a referee or coach saying he reminds them of Nathan or Austin or someone asking how they are faring in North Carolina at Campbell University.

Don’t get it twisted. Jason loves and looks up to his brothers and hopes to accomplish everything they did and more. But along the way he hopes to change the narrative. He’s Jason Kraisser; not just Nathan or Austin’s little brother.

“It’s something I was told when I was young just starting off wrestling. It’s stuck with me the entire time,” Jason Kraisser said. “It’s great being a part of a family that is so talented and so gifted and just great athletes and great wrestlers. I love being associated with that. But at the same time, I’m not just another name on the list. I’m trying to make a name for myself so I’m not just another name out there.”

Jason Kraisser started that process last year as a 132-pound freshman. His surname brought sky-high expectations with it, yet he managed to exceed them. He dominated the county and 3A/4A East regional tournaments before capturing state title No. 9 for the Kraisser family with an 8-3 victory minutes after Austin won his third straight state championship in his last high school bout.

The conversation, however, turned almost immediately to the next three years. With the first and hardest one out of the way, will Jason join Nathan as a four-time state champion?

“People were definitely saying, ‘Hey, your brother was a four-time state champ, a three-time state champ, are you going to continue that trend? Are you going to be a great wrestler yourself? At that point it was a little nerve wracking,” Kraisser said. “But this is my chance to prove myself, like, I’m all right, too.”

This season was unlike the last because he no longer had his brother to guide him in practices or help fine-tune his technique. In the end, though, it didn’t matter. He finished the season with a 40-1 record and once again swept the postseason tournaments to be named this year’s Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Wrestler of the Year, joining Nathan (2009-12) and Austin (2016) in winning the honor.

“I knew last year I, and the rest of the team, would look up to my brother whenever they needed something, which was great. This year, I knew people would start looking toward me for stuff to do,” Kraisser said. “I just needed to be the role model and set the tone for the rest of the team. I tried to be the best I could as a leader and set the example both through speech and my actions.”

Despite all the early success, Kraisser hasn’t been perfect. He holds an 80-4 career record, but all four defeats have come at the Mount Mat Madness tournament at Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore. The winter break tournament is notoriously one of the toughest in the region — the country’s No. 1 ranked team Blair Academy won the team title over the Baltimore Sun’s No. 1 ranked Gaels this season — and a title has eluded Kraisser.

His sixth-place finish a year ago proved to be a crucial learning experience and a turning point in his career. He lost three matches, including one by fall, and the reality set in that he needed to improve if he wanted to live up to the expectations he set for himself.

“I learned that you just have to keep wrestling the whole time. I remember my first loss last year, I was winning the match and I got taken to my back and ended up losing by one point after blowing the lead,” Kraisser said. “I learned I can’t let up and I’ve got to fix those things if I want to become better.”

From that point on, Kraisser was dominant. His lessons learned at Mount Mat Madness helped him overcome a late deficit and pin Damascus’ Ryan Lawrence in the semifinals at the state tournament en route to the title. Four weeks later at the National High School Coaches Association Freshman National championship in Virginia Beach, Va., Kraisser pinned all five of his 132-pound opponents in a total of 7 minutes, 29 seconds and was named the Freshman Nationals’ Outstanding Wrestler.

Austin won the 152-pound title in the Senior National division.

“I was feeling good, I was excited. I was having a lot of fun there,” Kraisser said. “I was wrestling my hardest, and having my brother there with me, both of us just winning, it motivated me to do better.”

His success continued throughout this past season, but once again he hit a snag at Mount Mat Madness. Facing nationally-ranked Malcolm Robinson of Blair Academy, Kraisser took his lumps in a 14-2 major-decision defeat.

Cliff Kraisser, Jason’s father and Eagles head coach, wasn’t discouraged by the loss, and neither was Jason. In fact, Cliff Kraisser said he was proud Jason continued to push the pace and tried to score points despite the lopsided score.

“He had the one loss and he let that match get away from him because that’s the way he wrestles,” Cliff Kraisser said.

“I just went out and wrestled. I knew the score might not be what I liked, but at least I can say I was wrestling the whole time, no matter what the score was,” added Jason Kraisser. “As long as I wrestled the whole time because I didn’t do that well last year. ... I learned from my mistakes.”

Kraisser’s continued growth was evident after he completed the tournament by avenging one of his prior Mount Mat Madness losses to Gilman’s Braeden Alevizatos with a commanding 9-0 victory. Kraisser shut out Alevizatos again two weeks later at the Franklin Invitational.

Kraisser had another close call in the semifinals at the state tournament this season against Clarksburg’s Nick Gonzalez, but like the year prior, he overcame it. He took control late and won the match by fall before winning the 138-pound state championship with a 4-2 victory over Urbana’s Logan Arneson, who placed four spots behind Kraisser at Mount Mat Madness in December.

The more Kraisser continues to grow, the more the comparisons come. On the mat, he seems to be a lethal combination of both Nathan and Austin. He said he has picked up tendencies from each, but he’s also trying to create his own style to separate himself from the pack.

“I like to think I have just the best qualities. Nathan was always very technical — still is very technical — and very smooth. Everything flows well when he wrestles,” Jason Kraisser said. “Austin is very technical, too, but he’s more of a bulldozer, run you over. I try to have that mindset and at the same time try to keep my composure and be very technical.”

Off the mat, though, Cliff Kraisser says he’s like him: quiet and reserved, but always intensely focused on achieving his next goal.

“He’s quiet. He has a sense of humor but it’s like a dry, sarcastic sense of humor. He picks his spots to say something funny,” he said. “He’s not the center of attention. He was a captain this year but he’s a lead-by-example guy. You don’t hear him say much, but you can tell he’s always listening.”

Halfway through his high school career, Jason Kraisser has lived up to the hype. He still has high goals — winning Mount Mat Madness, becoming a Fargo All-American, joining Nathan as a NCAA All-American and four-time state champion — but for now, it’s all about enjoying the journey.

“I always believe that no matter what I still have something to prove. There’s always something to improve upon. The best guys in the world, they’re always in the practice room getting better,” Kraisser said. “No matter what the circumstance is there is always going to be some little thing I want to do a little bit better, a little bit stronger or a little bit faster. ... Four state titles is on the list, but there are higher goals I want to achieve.”

Also named to the first team:

106 pounds: Daiquan Anderson (36-3 season record), Oakland Mills senior

County: 4th; Region: 1st; State: 1st.

A year after finishing runner-up to Marriotts Ridge’s Chris Spano at the county, regional and state tournaments, Anderson broke through this winter on the biggest stage. He struggled and lost twice at the county tournament but rebounded at the 1A/2A South regional tournament, avenging a defeat to Mustangs freshman Ethan Bohan in the final. He followed with two pins, a major decision and an 11-6 victory over Smithsburg’s Shane Hovermale in the finals at the state tournament and joined Wrestler of the Year Jason Kraisser as the only two state champions in the county.

106: Kevin Hansberger (34-14), Glenelg sophomore

County: 1st; Region: 3rd; State: DNP.

Hansberger excelled as a freshman, finishing fourth in the county and sixth in the region at 113 pounds while winning 30 matches. This season, he solidified his spot at 106 pounds and knocked off some of the top wrestlers in the area. He scored two late near-fall points to beat Marriotts Ridge freshman Ethan Bohan in the semifinals at the county tournament and followed with a 4-2 victory over Atholton’s Drew Pruett to win his first postseason tournament. He lost a rematch to Pruett in the semifinals of the 3A/4A East regional tournament a week later and then went 1-2 at the state tournament.

113: Logan Gwin (31-9), Glenelg junior

County: 1st; Region: DNP; State: DNQ.

Gwin won 31 matches, placed third at the county tournament and qualified for the state tournament a year ago at 106 pounds, and only an illness prevented him from getting another shot at wrestling in the final weekend. He rolled through this season’s county tournament, defeating Marriotts Ridge freshman Will Vaxmonsky, 5-2, in the finals but his season ended there after being scratched at the regional tournament. Gwin went 8-0 to win the Damascus Tournament over winter break and went 5-2 at the Cavalier Duals, losing to Hereford’s Jimmy Cavin, who placed third in the state, and state champion Zach Bryant of Catoctin.

113: Will Vaxmonsky (44-5), Marriotts Ridge freshman

County: 2nd; Region: 1st; State: 4th.

Vaxmonsky and teammate Ethan Bohan were arguably the county’s top freshmen this season. Vaxmonsky made the most of his move up to 113 pounds after Bohan dropped to 106 and reached the county finals after pinning Reservoir junior Reese Kilcarr in the semifinals. Though he lost a decision to Glenelg junior Logan Gwin in the championship, he bounced back and dominated the 1A/2A South region tournament, picking up a decision and two falls — including a 56 second pin in the finals. Vaxmonsky won his first two matches at the state tournament but was pinned by eventual state champion Zach Bryant of Catoctin in the semifinals. He won his first consolation match via injury default and placed fourth in the state after defaulting in the third-place match.

120: Chris Spano (41-4), Marriotts Ridge senior

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 4th.

Spano went undefeated and won a state title last season as a 106-pound junior, and even though he couldn’t repeat on the state level, he still finished his career as the most accomplished wrestler in Marriotts Ridge history. He won 74 consecutive matches from the 2015 state tournament until Jan. 21 and cruised through the county and 1A/2A South regional tournaments with a major decision and pin in the respective finals. He lost a close overtime decision to eventual state champion South Carroll’s Travis Crawford in the state semifinals and closed his career with a fourth-place finish at the state tournament. He went 158-19 in four seasons.

126: Jared Thomas (44-2), Glenelg sophomore

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 3rd.

Thomas won the Washington Catholic Athletic Association title and placed third at the Maryland Independent State tournament as a 106-pound freshman at Good Counsel last year and followed with a dominant sophomore season at Glenelg. He won the Damascus Holiday, county and 3A/4A East regional tournaments, and his only two losses on the year came against Oakland Mills junior Kyle Farace and two-time state champion Brian Stuart of North Hagerstown in an overtime thriller in the semifinals at the state tournament. He won 24 of his 44 matches by fall and ended his season with an 11-0 major decision victory to finish third at the state tournament.

132: Kyle Farace (40-3), Oakland Mills junior

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 2nd.

After finishing second in all three postseason tournaments his first two seasons, Farace finally pulled through and won his first county and regional titles this season. The junior went undefeated at the Scorpion Duals, won the SnOverlea Invitational and pinned Glenelg’s Jared Thomas in a dual meet. He knocked off Centennial’s Jacob Blyukher with a 6-0 decision to win the county championship and followed with three falls, including one in the final against eventual third-place state finisher Alex Rounceville of Southern, to win his first 1A/2A South regional title. He rolled to his third straight state championship final but lost a one-point decision to Sparrows Point’s Max Hammond.

138: Jimmy Hayden (37-6), Mt. Hebron senior

County: 2nd; Region: 3rd; State: DNP.

Hayden missed the majority of his junior season with an injury but returned in full force to lead Mt. Hebron to its best season this decade. The senior broke through and won his first varsity tournament with a title at the Franklin Invitational and edged Reservoir’s Todd Del Tufo for a second time this season to advance to the county championship match, where he lost a decision to Wrestler of the Year Jason Kraisser. Hayden lost a rematch to Del Tufo and came in third at the 3A/4A East regional tournament and went 1-2 at the state tournament. He finished with 20 pins and went 113-36 in his career.

145: Johnny Rynn (32-3), Oakland Mills senior

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 5th.

Rynn has been one of the most consistent wrestlers in the county over the last three years with top-five finishes at all three postseason tournaments each season. He missed the first week of December with an injury but returned in dominant form and helped Oakland Mills win its third straight regional dual and tournament titles. Rynn rolled to his third straight county title and then won his second straight 1A/2A South regional championship with two technical falls and a pin. He placed fifth at the state tournament, losing to the wrestlers that placed third and fourth, and finishes with a career record of 128-31. He went 105-17 in his final three seasons.

152: Jacob Jones (38-11), Glenelg sophomore

County: 1st; Region: 3rd; State: DNP.

Jones had a stellar freshman season for Glenelg a year ago, finishing second at the county tournament, but came back bigger and better this winter. He improved his county championship performance and beat River Hill’s Brad Smith, 3-2, to win the title and then placed third at the 3A/4A East regional tournament behind two eventual state place-winners. He went 2-2 at his first state tournament but finished one win short of finishing in the top six. The two-time state qualifier had 23 pins this year and owns a 70-23 record in his first two varsity seasons.

160: Max Sotka (45-4), Glenelg junior

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 2nd.

Sotka has been one of the most aggressive wrestlers in the area since his freshman year but this season he took his technique to another level en route to the state finals. His conditioning was second to none and he methodically wore down his opponents, including Atholton’s Sean Billups in the county championship and Centennial’s Amr Narmouq in the 3A/4A East regional finals. He carried the momentum into the state tournament, where he won three straight decisions — including a 4-3 victory over Urbana’s Jake Makosy to avenge a prior defeat — before falling to three-time state champion Aaron Brooks of North Hagerstown in the finals.

170: Garrett Murray (37-2), Glenelg senior

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 3rd.

Murray has been the quiet leader for a Glenelg team that has gone 55-5 in dual meets since the start of last year. He was the only Gladiator to win a county title last season and this year he took his game to another level. He pinned River Hill’s Zach Wasilewski in 48 seconds to win his second county championship and then pinned all three of his opponents in the 3A/4A East regional tournament in 1:48 or less. At the state tournament, Murray fell in the semifinals via ultimate tiebreaker but bounced back to finish third.

182: Sam Alsheimer (44-6), Glenelg sophomore

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 4th.

A three-sport varsity athlete, Alsheimer is one of the most athletic upper weights in the county. He used that athleticism and built on a stellar freshman season, winning the county and regional tournaments and making a run to the state semifinals. Alsheimer handled Oakland Mills senior Paul Johnson in the county finals and won an overtime decision to advance to the 3A/4A East regional final. There, he secured a late takedown to beat Bel Air’s Tom Gomez and clinch a share of the regional championship for the Gladiators. He pinned his first two opponents at the state tournament but fell in the semifinals before finishing fourth.

195: Shaber Ahmad (25-13), Mt. Hebron senior

County: 1st; Region: DNP; State: DNQ.

Ahmad was undoubtedly the most improved varsity wrestler in the county this winter. He won just four varsity matches in his junior season but this year he won 25 and captured a county title after beating Centennial’s Lucas Shapiro in the semifinals and Oakland Mills’ Ernie Smith, 5-4, in the finals. Alhough he went 0-2 at the 3A/4A East regional tournament and failed to qualify for the state tournament, Ahmad proved that success can be validated by offseason training.

220: Nick Nordhausen (39-6), Mt. Hebron junior

County: 3rd; Region: 1st; State: 4th.

The defending county champion and regional finalist battled through some struggles this season at the Franklin Invitational and county tournament, where he was upset prior to the finals. However, Nordhausen saved his best for the final stretch. He won an overtime decision to reach the 3A/4A East regional finals for the second straight year, but this time he beat Meade’s Chris Bonilla Arocho, 3-2, to win the title. He won his first two bouts at the state tournament to reach the semifinals but fell to eventual state champion Bryce De Maille of Oakdale, who pinned his other three opponents. Nordhausen went on to finish in fourth place.

285: Tyler Ecker (38-6), Reservoir senior

County: 1st; Region: 2nd; State: 5th.

Ecker was the most dominant wrestler in county matches this season, as he won all 11 county duals by forfeit or pin to give his team the maximum six team points every dual. He also had stellar performances at the county tournament, pinning Mt. Hebron’s Isa Pender and Oakland Mills’ Kyle Boothe en route to the title. He fell to eventual state champion Brendan Woody of South River in the 3A/4A East regional championship but performed well at the state tournament and finished fifth.

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