Centennial senior Jason Kraisser remembers watching from the stands when his older brother Nathan did a backflip after winning his fourth state championship in 2012.
At the MPSSAA state championships at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro on Saturday, Jason Kraisser had a more subdued reaction to becoming the eighth Maryland public-school wrestler to win four state titles. He simply raised four fingers in the air, took off his green ankle band and enjoyed the moment as the crowd serenaded him with a standing ovation while his hand was raised for the final time in his illustrious high school career.
“People were coming up to me and asking me, ‘Hey, are you going to do a backflip or something?’ I was like, ‘Shoot, I don’t know how to do a backflip,’” said Kraisser, who defeated Huntingtown’s Josh Stokes, 14-3, in the 152-pound final in the 4A/3A classification in a rematch of last year’s 145-pound final. “I wanted to do a little something to celebrate. It’s a cool feeling to finish your career off like that.”
Kraisser (40-0), who ended his career on a 101-match winning streak and with a four-year varsity record of 159-4, joined one of Maryland wrestling’s most exclusive lists with the victory. Only Aberdeen’s Matt Slutzky (1989-92), Owings Mills’ Steve Kessler (1994-97), Hereford’s Josh Asper (2005-08), Southern Garrett’s George Scheffel (2007-10), Nathan Kraisser (2009-12), Middletown’s Danny Bertoni (2014-17) and North Hagerstown’s Aaron Brooks (2015-18) have won four state titles.
Adding Jason to that list has always seemed to simply be a matter of time. On Saturday, it became a reality.
And for the Kraisser family, it’s state championship No. 12. In addition to the four won by Nathan and Jason, brother Austin won three and father Cliff has one.
“I’m proud of him. It’s hard to put into words,” Centennial coach and family patriarch Cliff Kraisser said. “All of them [Brian, Nathan, Austin and Jason] worked really hard and it’s fun to see them have success. It’s a good journey but it’s not over. They all have aspirations in college [at Campbell University].”
Dunbar senior Jorden Pryor also went out in style and pinned Oakland Mills senior Ernie Smith in the 2A/1A heavyweight final in 2 minutes, 46 seconds. It’s his third straight state championship — the first from Baltimore City to accomplish the feat — and the Maryland-bound grappler caps an unbeaten season for the second time in as many years. He closes his historic career by going 109-1 since the start of his sophomore season.
Pryor (35-0) raised three fingers in the air after his victory and said afterwards that he understands the impact he had on the growing wrestling community in Baltimore City.
“Everybody comes up to me and says, ‘Hey Jorden.’ I’m like, you know me?” he said. “That’s awesome, it’s really awesome.”
Bel Air senior Brent Lorin won state titles as a freshman and sophomore but fell short last season and placed third. This time, in his final state tournament, he got back on top and dominated the 113-pound bracket in 4A/3A and beat Stephen Decatur’s Jagger Clapsadle, 9-4, for the title. The first Bobcats grappler to win three state titles, he ends his career with a record of 176-5.
“It feels almost as good as four I think,” said Lorin (46-1), who will wrestle for Johns Hopkins. “Every time I’ve made it to the finals and I’ve won it’s a feeling that you don’t get anywhere else in the world. It’s incredible. It makes all the hard work absolutely worth it.”
Owings Mills was well represented with four finalists and three champions, including juniors Phil Smith (138) and Alex DuFour (113), who both won their second straight championships.
Smith (37-0) kept his 86-match win streak alive in what undoubtedly the most exciting match of the tournament. He squared off with Glenelg senior Jared Thomas, also an undefeated reigning state champion, and the back-and-forth battle lived up to the hype. Smith built an early 5-0 lead before Thomas rallied and tied the score at seven, but the Eagles grappler won the final scramble and found himself on top and secured the fall in 5:38.
“That was crazy. A lot of scrambles and tough positions I had to fight through. He’s a really good wrestler,” said Smith, who improved to 125-1 in his career. “It’s a good experience to be a part of and everybody said it was the highlight of the night. I believe it.”
DuFour (41-4) had less trouble winning his title. He shut out Middletown’s Landen Harbaugh, 4-0.
“It means a lot,” he said. I’m very proud to wear this singlet and I’m happy to keep adding to the dynasty.”
Senior Roell Ngounou (37-2) squeaked his way into the championship match at 160 pounds by winning a 12-11 decision and then a 3-1 overtime decision but made the most of his shot at the title. He controlled South Carroll’s Antonio Bradford for a comfortable 7-0 victory.
“I’ve had so many visions of this, so it just happened the way I envisioned it to,” he said. “I won it a long time ago. I’m pumped.”
C. Milton Wright sophomore James Riveira (40-1) kept the possibility of joining Kraisser on the four-time state champion list by winning his second state title in as many years at 120 pounds in 4A/3A. He built a big lead early and cruised to a 9-3 victory over Leonardtown’s Sean Vosburgh, a state champion two years ago.
“He came out a lot more aggressive this time, so I had to adjust to that. Other than that, everything else was the same,” said Riveira, referencing an 11-2 win against Vosburgh earlier this season. “Definitely a confidence booster, I feel like I’m just going to go out my next two years and get two more state titles.”
South River senior Ka’Ron Lewis (47-1) said he heard how winning last year’s state championship was a fluke. He said he was determined to prove those people wrong, and he did so by beating Springbrook’s Aimrick Nya, 3-1, in overtime to win the 285-pound title in 4A/3A for the second consecutive season.
“Coming back one year later winning it again shows I deserve this,” said Lewis. “I do it for my team, my family, my school, my coaches, God. I don’t do this for myself. I know I have a lot of people on my back and it really just pushed me.”
A year after losing in the ultimate tiebreak period in the 182-pound final, Glenelg senior Sam Alsheimer (43-1) got his elusive state title in thrilling fashion. The 195-pounder trailed 4-2 when, in the span of only a few seconds, he got a reversal, locked up a cradle and pinned Colonel Richardson’s Jordan Gabriel in 3:17.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said fresh off the mat. “... My whole motivation last year was to come back from the leg injury and finally prove that I’m back and I can win this. I lost that, so my mentality this year has been trying to avenge that loss, and it feels great.”
Gladiators junior Drew Sotka also won a state title a year after his older brother Max won in the same 170-pound weight class in 2A/1A. Sotka built an early lead and methodically held on to beat Hereford’s Jimmy Kells, 5-4.
“Honestly, last year I never would’ve thought I’d win states. Seeing [Max] do it — he wasn’t always the best wrestler but he worked hard and that’s why he did it. I copied that; I didn’t miss a single practice all year, I worked as hard as I could every practice and hard work pays off.”
Howard County swept the 170-pound titles, as county champion Sean Billups (38-3) of Atholton won the championship in 4A/3A. He became the Raiders’ first state champion since 2008 by winning his region finals rematch against defending state champion John Podsednik of Leonardtown, 9-6. He trailed 5-4 entering the third period but scored the next five points to pull away.
“It feels great. All the hard work and staying hours after practice, all that hard work just makes it feel so much better,” said Billups, who placed third last season. “I beat him before. I knew he was going to change up his game plan wrestling me, so I just had to adapt to what he already does and do what I do.”
Franklin senior Elijah Solomon (44-1), who starred at running back for the state champion Indians football team, capped his career as a state champion by beating Huntingtown’s Joseph Bannister-Pesce, 6-2, in the 220-pound final in 4A/3A.
Solomon admitted winning a team state championship is the better accomplishment “but this feels real good right, I’m not going to lie. I’m proud to be here right now.”
Broadneck senior Michael Garlington held off Quince Orchard’s Jose Echeona in the 138-pound final 4A/3A and won a 6-5 decision. He said his goal was to head to his college team being able to boast being a state champion.
Western Tech senior Ike Kalu (220) dropped his finals match in 2A/1A, and in addition to Bradford, South Carroll had two finalists fall short: freshman Ryan Athey (106) and senior Steven Dahl (152).
Winters Mill sophomore Zach Kirby (126) lost a one-point decision, while Owings Mills senior Diondre Space (182) lost his championship match, 2-0. Dunbar junior De’airus Carr (145), River Hill senior Will Henrickson (132) and Loch Raven senior Marquis Kemp (120) also fell short.
In 4A/3A, Lansdowne sophomore Riley Bozeman lost in the 106-pound final, as did South River senior Trenton Puccinelli (160) and Kenwood’s Daylon Duncan (145).