Centennial junior Jason Kraisser had been in this moment before but felt there was more to be done. He entered the state wrestling tournament at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro already a two-time state champion, but he was less than satisfied with how his previous two championship matches had gone.
But this time was different. It was his time to prove how much he has separated himself from the field.
The son of state champion Cliff and the younger brother of four-time champion Nathan and three-time winner Austin, Jason solidified the Kraisser name in Maryland wrestling lore on March 5, capping an undefeated season with his third straight title.
He cruised past Huntingtown’s Josh Stokes, 16-3, in the 3A/4A 145-pound final and finished the tournament with three first-period falls and a major decision. Despite having an 11-point lead with 15 seconds remaining in the final, Kraisser put an exclamation point on the win with two more near-fall points.
“I feel like I definitely wrestled better, but there were still times where I gave up a little bit where I could’ve improved my positioning,” said Kraisser, who wrapped up his first undefeated season at 39-0 and improved to 79-1 over the last two years. “But overall, I think I wrestled pretty well. That’s one thing I’ve always grown up thinking about. The way my dad teaches wrestling, the way my brothers wrestled, always look to score no matter if you’re winning or losing.”
Kraisser was one of three county grapplers to take home gold medals, as Glenelg junior Jared Thomas (132) and senior Max Sotka (170 pounds) also captured state championships in 1A/2A.
Gladiators junior Sam Alsheimer (182) and senior Robbie Baxter (220) and fell short in their championship bouts to finish runner-up in 1A/2A, while Mt. Hebron senior Nick Nordhausen (heavyweight) finished second in 3A/4A.
Marriotts Ridge sophomore Ethan Bohan (120), Oakland Mills senior Kyle Farace (126) and Hammond junior Loic Tueguo (220) all placed third in their brackets in 1A/2A, while Atholton junior Sean Billups (170) took third in 3A/4A.
Atholton sophomore David Panda (113, 3A/4A) and River Hill junior Will Henrickson (126 1A/2A) placed fourth, Atholton junior Drew Pruett (106, 3A/4A), Reservoir senior Todd Del Tufo (152, 3A/4A) and Glenelg junior Jacob Jones (160, 1A/2A) finished in fifth place, and River Hill junior Eric Robinson (106, 1A/2A), Glenelg junior Kevin Hansberger (120, 1A/2A) and Marriotts Ridge senior Justin Hooper (160, 1A/2A) placed sixth.
Thomas (41-3) was neck and neck with Dunbar freshman Jalen Jones in their finals match, as it was tied at three after one period and six after two, but Thomas secured the only takedown in the final two minutes to win an 8-7 decision.
He and Sotka are the Gladiators’ first state champions since Sean Twigg in 2013.
“We’ve been talking in the room that it’s time to sink or swim, and I swam there, I didn’t sink,” said Thomas, who placed third as a sophomore. “He was starting to break [in the third period] ... I felt the pressure release a lot and I knew from neutral it would be a lot easier to win that match.”
Sotka (35-7), who needed more than three overtime periods to advance to his second straight state final, had little trouble becoming Glenelg’s second state champion of the day. After building a 4-0 lead in the first period, Sotka continued to rack up points against Southern Garrett’s Joe Embleton en route to a commanding 14-3 major decision victory.
“Coach kept saying all year that we haven’t had a [state champion] in a while,” Sotka said. “And we knew we had a pretty good team this year, a lot of good individuals. And we just wanted to fill the wall, add more names to it. So I think Jared and I feel the same way. It’s a big honor, and I feel really great about finally being able to do it and be on that wall forever.”
Alsheimer (17-2) picked up two falls and then overcame a third-period deficit and beat Dunbar’s Dwayne Johnson, 5-3, in overtime to reach the championship match, but in the final he couldn’t pull through in another overtime finish against Patterson Mill senior Hunter Crowley.
Tied at 1-1 after regulation and the first overtime period, Alsheimer took control of the match by riding out Crowley in the first 30-second overtime period and then took a 2-1 lead with an escape in the second. Crowley, however, was awarded a takedown in the final seconds and won the title with a 3-2 decision.
Baxter (33-12) was one of the biggest surprises of the tournament. The regional runner-up won three straight decisions, including a 3-1 overtime victory over Southern Garrett’s Hunter Park, to reach the final but lost by fall in 1 minute, 48 seconds to Boonsboro’s Tristen Cook.
Nordhausen (42-2) was tied with South River’s Ka’Ron Lewis entering the final minute of his finals bout but Lewis secured the winning takedown and won a 3-2 decision. Nordhausen was looking to become the Vikings first state champion.
Bohan (47-5) avenged his only state tournament loss to Loch Raven’s Marquis Kemp in the consolation finals. He lost a 5-4 decision to Kemp in the quarterfinals but rallied with a one-point decision, a fall and two overtime victories. He defeated Kemp, 4-2, in the ultimate tiebreaker to finish third.
“This means a lot,” Bohan said. “Since I lost in the quarterfinals to that guy, I knew I could beat him. I just wanted to convert on that and win.”
Farace (29-5) has suffered more heartbreak than anyone at the state tournament, as he finished runner-up in each of his first three seasons. He fell just short in his run to the finals this year, as he got pinned by eventual champion Damascus’ Johnny McLaughlin in the semifinals, but he finished his state tournament with a win for the first time and avenged two defeats in doing so.
Farace pinned Henrickson (25-4) with his signature cradle in just 53 seconds to finish in third place. He lost an 8-7 decision to Henrickson in the county tournament finals and then got pinned by the Hawks transfer in the regional final.
“It definitely feels good, you know, you’ve got to go out with a bang,” said Farace, who finishes his career with a record of 139-20. “Especially redeeming that county and regional matches, I didn’t feel like I wrestled my best in either of those matches, and I definitely felt good here. ... It was really important to show good character and come back strong.”
Billups (36-1) entered the tournament as one of two undefeated county wrestlers but suffered his first defeat in the quarterfinals. But the junior was undeterred, as he bounced back with four straight wins, including a 6-4 overtime victory over Eleanor Roosevelt’s Emmanuel Nchako to finish in third place.
“You’ve just got to show people that just because you lose one time doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world,” Billups said. “You’ve just got to get back into it and take the mistakes you made from that loss, learn from them and continue to go and correct those mistakes.”
Tueguo (43-5) ended his breakthrough junior campaign with a 3-1 decision over Kent Island regional champion Hadyn Blanchard in the consolation finals. Tueguo lost in the semifinal round to Cook but became the Golden Bears’ first state placer since Anthony Solis took fifth in 2014 and their highest placer since Bryan Overton also finished third in 2013.
“Not so bad, I’m happy with how I wrestled,” Tueguo said. “Last year I didn’t go to states and I didn’t have the confidence level that I do now.”
Panda (28-7), just a second-year wrestler, upset a regional champion to reach the semifinal round, where he lost to eventual champion Blake Jury of Huntingtown. He rallied with a 4-2 decision in the consolation semifinals before losing a 5-4 decision to South River’s Isaac Barber.
Pruett (34-4) pinned Bel Air’s Trevor Lorin in 2:09 to finish in fifth place. He lost to eventual champion Yonas Harris of Northwest in the quarterfinals.
Del Tufo (41-7) beat Linganore’s Dalton Pearl, 6-4, to cap his career with a fifth-place finish. It’s his first time placing in his fourth trip to the tournament.
Jones (40-6) reached the semifinals but lost a tight 4-2 decision to eventual champion Tyler Bauer of North Caroline. He finished in fifth place, one spot ahead Hooper (42-11), who defaulted his placement match because of injury. Hooper also lost in the semifinal round.
Robinson (40-7) won three straight decisions in the consolation bracket — including a 5-0 victory over Marriotts Ridge junior Austin Manwiller to avenge his regional finals defeat — to place for the first time.
Hansberger (39-11) also placed for the first time and finished in sixth after winning three decisions overall, including a 3-2 victory against River Hill freshman Michael Crisitello in the consolation bracket.
Reporter Kyle Stackpole contributed to this story.