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 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 Monday, capping an undefeated season with his third straight title.
He cruised past Huntingtown’s Josh Stokes, 16-3, and finished the Class 4A-3A tournament with three first-period falls and a major decision in the 145-pound class. 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 past 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 10 Baltimore-area wrestlers to take home gold medals, and one of five to finish the year with an unblemished record.
In Class 2A-1A, Owings Mills sophomores Phil Smith (120 pounds) and Alex Dufour (106), Glenelg senior Max Sotka (170) and junior Jared Thomas (132), Patterson Mill senior Hunter Crowley (182) and Dunbar junior Jorden Pryor (heavyweight) captured state championships.
In 4A-3A, South River junior Ka’Ron Lewis (heavyweight) and C. Milton Wright senior Wyatt Graham (220) and freshman James Riveira (120) won titles.
Smith, Crowley, Graham and Pryor joined Kraisser in finishing their seasons with undefeated records.
Pryor (33-0) won his second straight state title and capped his undefeated season with an 11-5 decision against Damascus’ Elijah Baisden.
He methodically built his lead as the match progressed to earn the state-title victory and become the first Baltimore City wrestler to win two state championships.
“I’m trying to get to the next level, to college,” said Pryor, who is 77-1 over the past two seasons. “And to be dominant, you just have to have that attitude to go out there and stick a person, pin them and things like that.”
Smith (45-0), as he did throughout the tournament, cruised in his championship bout. He built a big lead before pinning North Caroline’s Ryan Bauer in 5:20 to capture his first state championship.
Even after winning the bracket with two pins, a technical fall and a major decision, Smith thought some of his victories were a little too close.
“Last year I lost so this year I had the mindset that I would beat everybody this year,” said Smith, wearing a championship belt his father gifted him. “It means a lot. I’ve been chasing this thing since I was in junior league.”
His teammate Dufour (42-2) claimed his first 2A-1A state title in convincing fashion. Despite not scoring in the first period, Dufour totaled six points in the second period and then pinned Damascus freshman Michael Emerick in 4:27.
The sophomore credited his success to participating in competitive offseason tournaments and wrestling in heavier weight classes at times throughout the year.
“I just come in and try to dominate every single match, work hard every match and have fun,” Dufour said.
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 accumulate 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.”
Crowley (38-0) needed extra time to win his first state championship after finishing third twice. He secured a takedown in the final seconds of the third overtime period to defeat Glenelg junior Sam Alsheimer, 3-2.
“I was exhausted; he’s got a fantastic defense. I couldn’t work any of my stuff but scrambled it out and I won,” he said. “I was a little bit surprised [by the referee awarding him the takedown], but I’ll take it.”
Graham (44-0) entered last year’s state tournament with an undefeated record but suffered his only defeat in the state final. This time, however, he wouldn’t be denied, as the senior pinned Walt Whitman’s John-Luke Iglesias in 2:33 in the final in a battle on unbeaten grapplers.
“Everything I’ve been doing in the last year toward wrestling has been for this moment right now,” said Graham, who joined Riveira as the Mustangs’ first state champions since 1999 and just third and fourth overall. “After I lost last year, I told myself I’m winning it this year.”
Earlier this season, Riveira (44-1) showed his state title potential by snapping Bel Air junior Brent Lorin’s 119-match winning streak at the 3A North regional duals.
Riveira continued to impress from there — making a run to the state finals while losing just once — and then completed his standout freshman year with a 6-4 decision over Walters Johnson’s Kemper Stearns in the state championship. Lorin, who won the past two state titles, finished third.
“I’m No. 1,” Riveira said, “and I’m not going anywhere.”
Lewis (37-6), meanwhile, was stuck behind 2017 state champion Brendan Woody in the varsity lineup for the last two years but made the most of his opportunity this season. Tied 1-1 against Mount Hebron senior Nick Nordhausen (41-3), he secured a takedown in the final minute and held on for a 3-2 victory.
“Woody taught me so much,” he said. “You got to get beat up sometimes in order to be the best and that’s what happened today. I’m so happy.”
Glenelg senior Robbie Baxter (220), Eastern Tech junior Ryan Wagener (126), Sparrows Point senior Skyler Minutelli (145) and Western Tech junior Ike Kalu (195) fell in their respective championship bouts in 2A-1A, while Old Mill senior Robbie Fleming (152) lost his finals match in 4A-3A.