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(Enlarge) The 2009 Wrestler of the Year is 103-pounder Nathan Kraisser, a Centennial High School freshman. Kraisser lost just one match in becoming one of only three freshmen in county history to win a state title. (Staff photo by Drew Anthony Smith)

Nathan Kraisser says his earliest wrestling memory is losing in the finals of a rec-league tournament when he was 6 or 7.

"It was my first or second year of wrestling," said Kraisser. "Jordan Tolbert (now a sophomore at Magruder) beat me, 3-2, in the finals."

Apparently, Kraisser learned something from that match, including that he doesn't like losing. This season, the Centennial freshman went 37-1, winning a state title at 103 pounds.

He was the second freshman from Howard County to win a state title (Oakland Mills' Tony Farace became the third later that evening), and the first to be named the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times Wrestler of the Year.

"It was a really special year for him," Centennial coach Dave Roogow said. "There was a lot of pressure on him and I think he handled it really well."

Kraisser has handled it well since the beginning. He started with the Mt. Hebron Rebels of the Howard County rec league, moved on to the Vipers and eventually joined Team Kolat, a club team run by two-time NCAA champion Cary Kolat.

"Every Sunday during the season he was up working with his club coach Cary Kolat," Roogow said. "And it's not forced on him."

As a result, wrestling in front of large crowds was nothing new to Kraisser, who won a junior national title last year at the Tulsa Convention Center in Oklahoma, and became an All-American over the summer at the 19,000-seat Fargodome in North Dakota.

It's why the state tournament at Cole Field House, and Mount Mat Madness at UMBC, where Kraisser took his lone loss -- a 3-1 decision to Wyoming Seminary (Pennsylvania)'s Dominick Malone -- were not overwhelming.

It also has helped that Kraisser has grown up in a wrestling family. His father, Cliff, is an assistant coach for Team Kolat and at Centennial, and won a state championship for the school in 1983. His brother Brian is a junior 145-pound county champion at Centennial. And there are five more siblings.

"Our sister Brandi, who is 13, my brother Austin, who is 12, Jason, who is 9, after that it's Holli, who is 6 and then Calvin, the last one, who is 3," said Nathan, whose family keeps a wrestling mat in the basement. "(Calvin) is always just wrestling around with everybody. He gets on the lines and makes sure to shake hands and just tackles."

When listening to Nathan describe his brother, it's easy to forget what a quick, tenacious, intense competitor he is, and to think of him as the likable kid he is.

Nathan, who just turned 16, likes to eat steak and leaf through Brian's copies of Popular Science to "see the new machines that may come out; that's fun."

Although there were a number of impressive wins this year -- over two-time state champion Scott Mantua, of River Hill, private school champ Eric Friedman, of St. Paul's, and Delaware champ Tyler Pendergast to name a few -- Kraisser has developed a healthy attitude toward losing.

"I don't like losing, of course, but I know that it may help me get better more than wins, and the tougher the competition, the better I'm going to get, naturally," he said. "If I happen to lose against better competition, then that's something I can work on, so that would overall make me better."

Kraisser is growing, so he will likely wrestle at 112 or 119 next year, and his team will return to the elite Ray Oliver Invitational, which he won this year, and Mount Mat Madness, so the tough competition will keep coming.

"I lost one match this season, which I can improve on. I got taken down a couple times, there's something else I could work on," he said.

Kraisser might lose a few matches and learn some things, or he might improve on this year's incredible performance and go undefeated.

Named to the all-county first team:

103: Tony Farace (36-2), Oakland Mills freshman.

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

If not for Nathan Kraisser, Farace would have been the talk of the town. And he still generated plenty of buzz after winning the Jeff Yingling Memorial Tournament, the Overlea Invitational, regions and states, where he pinned his final opponent. Farace's only losses this year were to Kraisser, and he was one of only a few wrestlers to take him down.

112: Kevin Beck (36-3), Atholton junior.

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

Beck, a defending state champ, faced Scott Mantua in the finals of the county tournament. He lost, 6-2, but bounced back to win a regional title and appear in the state finals, where he lost to Blake's Rashiem Smith, the wrestler he defeated last year. Beck also won the Perry Hall Big 20 and Grapple at the Brook tournaments this season. The Raiders won only one county dual match, but it was not because of Beck, who scored the maximum six points in each of the Raiders' league matches.

112: Scott Mantua (46-2), River Hill senior.

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

Mantua will go down as one of the most successful wrestlers to ever come through this county. He won state titles as a sophomore and junior before losing to Owings Mills' Avi Friedman in this year's state title match. His only other loss was to Nathan Kraisser, 4-3. He was named the Glenn DeVane outstanding wrestler at the county tournament after he beat Kevin Beck. Mantua became an All-American last weekend, placing fourth at senior nationals.

119: Tim Schwartz (43-3), Reservoir senior.

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

With his fourth-place finish in the state tournament, Schwartz became the highest-placing Reservoir wrestler in the history of the school. He was the school's second county champion, and won his 100th career match, at the regional tournament. Schwartz also won a Grapple at the Brook title and was named Outstanding Wrestler at Titans' Thunder. He split matches at the Senior All Star Classic, beating a 125-pound state finalist.

125: Brendan Conway (34-5), Glenelg junior.

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

Conway defeated Centennial's Dan LeRoy, a former county tournament Outstanding Wrestler, to win his first county title. He followed up with a third region title. His loss in the state tournament was an overtime decision to the eventual state champ, and he dominated every other match. Conway also defended his Damascus tournament title.

125: Dan LeRoy (32-9), Centennial senior.

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

Glenelg's Brendan Conway got the better of LeRoy, the returning Outstanding Wrestler at the county tournament, this time around, but the senior rebounded to turn in his finest performance ever at the state tournament, losing, 2-0, in the championship finals. LeRoy, who won two matches at Mount Mat Madness, wrestled one of the hardest schedules in the county, but it paid off. LeRoy is Centennial's all-time wins leader, with 122.

130: Kris Dutt (31-6), Howard senior.

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

Dutt had never placed in the county tournament before this year but made the most of his last chance, with a decisive win in the finals to ink his name in the record books. Dutt had a disappointing state tournament, but ended his high school career with two postseason trophies.

135: Josh Halper (39-7), Hammond senior.

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

Halper capped his Hammond career with his first county and region titles, and a championship round appearance at Cole Field House, his best performance ever at the state level. He recorded 20 pins this season and won both of his matches at the end-of-season Senior All Star Classic to go out on an even higher note.

140: Nathan White (47-2), River Hill senior.

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

White set a new record for wins in a season at River Hill (47) and became a two-time county champ. His only losses were to each of Southern-Garrett's Scheffel brothers, Bubba in the state dual semifinals and Brutus in the state tournament semifinals. Both brothers earned state championships. White won by pin or tech fall in all of his other matches at states. He beat the 3A-4A state champ at the Senior All Star Classic.

145: Brian Kraisser (32-10), Centennial junior.

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

Kraisser joined his brother, Nathan, atop the podium at the county tournament, winning his first title. Kraisser was the only non-senior in his weight class to place at the 4A-3A state tournament. He already has 95 career victories.

145: Bruce Steinel (26-7), Atholton senior.

County: NA. Region: 1st. State: DNP.

Steinel bounced back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for much of last year to win the Grapple at the Brook tournament. Though he missed the county tournament due to illness, and had a disappointing performance at the state tournament, he put together an outstanding show at regions, pinning Brian Kraisser in the finals.

152: Peter Petties (32-9), Oakland Mills senior.

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

Petties was a county finalist last year and wasn't going to settle for second again, even though he had to beat a wrestler, Reservoir's Mike Mullens, who had soundly beaten him earlier in the year. Petties won the marathon match, 2-1, in four overtimes. He went on to become a regional finalist and place fourth at states, winning three matches in the consolation bracket after getting knocked down in the championship quarterfinals by the eventual champion. Petties also was a Francis Scott Key tournament champ.

160: Sam Nuss (29-14), Hammond junior.

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

Nuss was known as a pinner -- with 19 pins, he won more than half of his matches that way -- and that's exactly how he became a county champ. Nuss fought off his back to pin Marriotts Ridge's Matt Friesen in the county finals and then made it to the regional finals.

171: Scott Trench (38-8), River Hill senior.

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

Trench had one of the finest postseason runs in the county. After losing his seventh match of the season on Feb. 3, to old rival Nick Croninger of Hammond, he rattled off a 16-match winning streak, including two victories over Croninger, that took him all the way to the state championship match. Trench also won a match at the Senior All Star Classic.

189: Danny Flanagan (31-7), Hammond senior.

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

Flanagan was the poster boy for offseason training at the county tournament. After injury defaulting in the fifth-place match as a junior, he worked hard in the offseason and came back to take the county title this year, winning an exciting overtime match in the semifinals, and defeating a former county champ (Reservoir's Tyler Breitschwerdt) in the finals to do it. He also led Hammond with three wins at Mount Mat Madness.

215: Jake Pace (44-4), River Hill senior.

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

Pace was one of the most dominant wrestlers in the county for much of the season. He defeated old rival Jae Kim of Marriotts Ridge (who went on to take fourth at states, becoming his school's first-ever state placewinner) in both the county and region finals. He had an off-day at the state tournament, but still turned in the greatest season ever for a River Hill 215-pounder.

285: Michael Daniel (31-7), Oakland Mills senior.

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

Daniel wrestled at 215 pounds for part of the year, but bumped up a weight class late in the season and dominated the competition with his combination of quickness and strength. He went on a win streak through counties and regions and all the way to the state semifinals before losing to the eventual state champ. Daniel, who won Francis Scott Key and Overlea tournament titles at 215 pounds, continued a tradition of great Oakland Mills heavyweights.

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