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Navy’s Cary Kolat coached Nathan Kraisser to be an All-America wrestler. Now, bragging rights are on the line.

Campbell's Nathan Kraisser, left, and coach Cary Kolat share a hug after Kraisser defeated Freddie Rodriguez of SIU Edwardsville in the blood round of the 2017 NCAA Championships in St. Louis. Kolat, now the head coach at Navy, and Kraisser, who is an assistant at Clarion, will face off as coaches for the first time on Saturday.
Campbell's Nathan Kraisser, left, and coach Cary Kolat share a hug after Kraisser defeated Freddie Rodriguez of SIU Edwardsville in the blood round of the 2017 NCAA Championships in St. Louis. Kolat, now the head coach at Navy, and Kraisser, who is an assistant at Clarion, will face off as coaches for the first time on Saturday. (Courtesy photo / Damone Brown)

Cary Kolat, in his first year as Navy wrestling coach, doesn’t have as much time these days to catch up with old friends.

He guessed he speaks with someone from the Kraisser family about once a month now that the season is underway, but otherwise it’s closer to once a week. But his wife Erin?

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“Probably once a day,” Kolat said with a laugh. “It just depends … We’re all a little busy but we don’t miss a beat when we see each other or talk to each other.”

The coach had been in Nathan Kraisser’s corner since he first started Team Kolat out of a gym in Timonium in 2005. Kraisser, then a sixth grader, over time developed into one of the country’s best wrestlers under the guidance of the former Olympian and two-time NCAA Champion.

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After becoming the fifth Maryland public school wrestler to win four state titles at Centennial High in Ellicott City, the two reconnected at the University of North Carolina, where Kolat was an assistant and Kraisser became Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and reached the quarterfinals of the 2013 NCAA Championships.

Where Kolat went, so did Kraisser — and eventually his brothers, too. Kraisser transferred to Campbell when Kolat became the school’s head coach in 2014, and as a redshirt senior Kraisser became the program’s first and only All-American to date by placing eighth at 125 pounds at the 2017 NCAA Championships.

Brothers Austin and Jason, who collectively won seven more high school state titles at Centennial, followed suit and are current members of the Campbell wrestling team.

“It’s an awesome family,” Kolat said. “We see them from time to time since I’ve moved back. The dad, Cliff, would help me with the club years ago, and Austin and Jason have the same characteristics as Nathan. It’s just an all-around awesome family to be around, you know, real salt of the Earth kind of people, so you enjoy being around them.”

On Saturday, Kolat and Nathan Kraisser will be on opposite sides of the mat for the first time as Navy travels to Clarion, where Nathan is in his second year as an assistant coach. Nathan cut his teeth as a recruiting coordinator on Kolat’s staff at Campbell in 2018-19 before heading to Clarion last season.

“It’ll be a little different being on the other side of it. It’ll be the first time competing against him, but I think it’ll be fun,” Nathan said. " … Either way we’re going to give each other a hard time about it and probably tease each other about it, whoever comes out on top. But that’s part of what makes it fun and a little bit more excitement in this dual for me because of that.”

Both Kolat and Nathan said they have learned from each other in their coach-to-wrestler relationship, which has developed into a deeper personal friendship that has extended to both families.

It’s that personal touch that Kolat brings that has rubbed off on Nathan.

“Other coaches, they come and go, but Cary, it was about the wrestling technique and stuff but it was also — like in the summer he would have us at his house, and he lived by the river and we would take tubes out and play lawn games and he’d cook for us,” Nathan said. “He built a lot of relationships with guys, but it also helps guys on the team build relationships with each other, and that’s something I think is awesome and something I’m bringing into my coaching. And I saw how much he enjoyed it.”

There are also some parts of being a coach that Nathan has now seen first-hand that are not all it’s made up to be.

“It’s not just teaching technique,” he said. “Fundraising, that was a big one. Fundraising is a lot bigger part of college sports, especially wrestling, than most people realize. I saw a lot of good ideas that he came up or used and how well they worked and was able to bring some of that to Clarion with me.”

Coaching Nathan on and off for nearly a decade as a youngster and an adult allowed Kolat to learn that not everyone is the same and coaching is not a one-size-fits-all.

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“I think you’ve got to let a kid figure it out for himself sometimes,” Kolat said.

Figuring out what weight class Nathan would go was a constant conversation throughout his college career. As a “tweener,” too big for 125 pounds but too small for 133, Kolat said he learned that it was ultimately something Nathan needed to figure out on his own, although he had his own opinions on what would help him reach the podium at the NCAA Championships.

“Finally, one day he came in and said he was getting on the stand, so I watched him do what he needed to do to make 125, and it wasn’t an easy road,” Kolat said. “You learn a little bit on how tough somebody is mentally and physically when they gotta go through some stuff like that. And he did it, as much as you can, with a smile on his face. But the one thing I learned was the kid was a mentally tough guy and he still is.”

Kolat said he’s looking forward to the dual but is “just excited to see” Nathan.

“I’ll see him on Saturday and we’ll just catch up like we always do,” he added. “It’s always good to see him.”

NAVY@CLARION

Saturday, 3 p.m.

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