By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2010; D06
The first session of a long day ends inside the wrestling room at Comcast Center on the University of Maryland campus, and most of the 50 or so high school-age grapplers scatter. They have a 90-minute lunch break before Terrapins Coach Kerry McCoy arrives for a two-hour tutorial on leg-clinch moves.
Nathan Kraisser stays behind as other members of the Maryland national wrestling team seek a change of scenery from the wrestling room where they will spend nearly 12 hours. Kraisser instead opts to run through take-down moves and pick the brains of some of the state's best-known wrestling coaches.
Kraisser is one of nearly 70 elite wrestlers who qualified for the Maryland national team based on their success at a series of six tournaments at the end of the high school season. For the past three weeks, they drilled at colleges and training facilities around the state to prepare for the Junior and Cadet National Championships -- the country's preeminent high school wrestling tournament -- which began Sunday in Fargo, N.D., and runs through Saturday.
Wrestlers must attend a minimum of nine days out of the team's 14-day practice program, and while many try to work in the usual summer fun, the 119-pound Kraisser hardly left the room during practice one day late last month, keen on heading into the tournament with every available advantage.
"The way I see it, the more information you have the better off you are," said Kraisser, a two-time All-Met and rising junior at Centennial. "You could miss something that could work perfectly for the style of wrestler you are. I want to make sure I take advantage of all that I can learn and practice."
After wrapping up his second Maryland 4A/3A individual title in as many years in March, Kraisser began what he calls his "real season." A series of top tournaments throughout the spring and summer -- stretching across the United States and beyond, if all goes according to plan -- will help him, he hopes, become not just one of the top Maryland wrestlers but one of the best in the country. The National Championships in Fargo are the peak of his and other top-level wrestlers' year.
"He doesn't have much of an offseason," said Nathan's father, Cliff Kraisser, an assistant coach at Centennial and a former Maryland state champion. "He keeps training and after Fargo I'll make him take the month of August off before he starts preseason stuff [for high school] but I doubt it will last that long. I'll be lucky if he takes more than a week."
The summer competitions, including the National Championships, consist of the two forms of wrestling found in the Olympics: Greco-Roman, which prohibits holds below the waist, and freestyle, which allows any hold. Unlike collegiate and scholastic wrestling, which emphasize control, the Olympic disciplines award points based on explosive moves and risk.
Nearly every athlete in the group finished as a place-winner at either a public or private school state tournament this winter, but it was during the rigorous pre-championships training sessions and grueling competitions that they truly continue to develop. They spar with the toughest opponents in the state on a daily basis while visiting coaches like former Olympian Cary Kolat emphasize nuances of the sport. They are reminded that there is always room to improve.
"When you're in this setting, you know everyone in the room is good," said Butch Keaser, a former Olympic wrestler and Maryland native who serves as head coach of the national team. "There might be a few egos bruised but they all get better. But within the group there's a whole range of attitudes, the guys who are elite-minded stand out because they already know what they want to accomplish. You can't teach that attitude, that mentality, and Nathan has it."
Kraisser took seventh in Greco-Roman and failed to place in freestyle in his first trip to the National Championships in 2009, results that only fueled his drive to improve. So after taking a week off when the high school season concluded, Kraisser ratcheted up his intensity for the schedule that would best prepare him for nationals a second time around.
"I'm not sure he would be satisfied with anything but being the best in the country," Centennial Coach Dave Roogow said. "He always wants to do better next time and he's put himself on the path to keep doing that."
In April, Kraisser took second in Greco-Roman and third in freestyle at the Cadet Nationals in Akron, Ohio, then qualified for the Maryland national team at a tournament in Baltimore a week later.
In May, he traveled to Monterrey, Mexico, for his first international competition in the Pan American Qualifier for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Kraisser needed to win to advance, but took bronze, falling only to the eventual top finisher.
Then he claimed the 112-pound titles in both Greco-Roman and freestyle at the Maryland State Wrestling Association championships. For the freestyle crown, Kraisser defeated Evan Silver, a Chevy Chase native who attends Blair Academy in New Jersey. At the end of the high school season Silver was ranked No. 1 in the country; Kraisser was No. 26.
"Other than getting my hand raised at the end, these tournaments are my favorite part of wrestling," Kraisser said. "Most of the guys here are my buddies, we can all push each other to get better while still having fun. I'm not sure I'll ever get tired of it."