Strong underclassmen pervasive in wrestling ranks

December 02, 2013|By Mike Frainie | For The Baltimore Sun

McDonogh’s Myles Martin is used to the attention, the letters, the visits from coaches. Those things come when you’re a great wrestler.

In the Baltimore area, several others are having the same experience.

Martin leads a group of local underclassmen wrestlers who are nationally ranked and highly sought. Martin is ranked the second-best underclassman in the United States at 170 pounds by wrestling website At one point in April, he was No. 1.

Other locals on the list include John Carroll’s Hunter Ritter (ranked third among underclassmen at 182 pounds), McDonogh’s Michael Smith (ranked fourth at 220 pounds), St. Paul’s Eric Friedman and Centennial’s Austin Kraisser (ranked 18th at 113 and 145 pounds, respectively). All are juniors with the exception of Kraisser, who is a sophomore.

“Maryland wrestling has gotten really good in the last few years,” said Pete Welch, Martin’s coach. “There’s a great crop of kids in wrestling programs in the area. It says a lot about our sport and our state. The level of competition just keeps getting better and better.”

Welch says that, in Martin’s case, it’s a love of wrestling and tremendous athleticism that set him apart.

“He loves to wrestle,” Welch said. “He’s so athletic, and his hands and feet are constantly moving. The people who wrestle him just can’t seem to keep up with him.”

Martin is 79-13 in two years of varsity wrestling. Last year, he was 45-3, with 21 pins. As a freshman, he finished second at the prestigious National Preps tournament in Easton, Pa., basically an East Coast championship for private school wrestlers. Last year, he finished first at National Preps at 160 pounds.

For Welch, the challenge is keeping Martin focused and on the right track.

“Today the kids are constantly bombarded with information,” Welch said. “There are so many different ways to contact these kids; Facebook, Twitter, text messages. My job is to keep him, and Mike Smith too, focused on the job at hand. It’s a balancing act. I want to expose him, but I want to protect him, too.”

From burnt out to champ

John Carroll coach Keith Watson has to do the same with Ritter. The junior had a good National Preps tournament — finishing third at 170 pounds — but Watson realized Ritter was burned out, and had him rest for a month and a half. Then things really started heating up.

Ritter, whose high school record is 55-4 in two seasons, went to the U.S. Olympic training center, and pinned a three-time Georgia state champion. Then it was on to the Sophomore Nationals in Virginia Beach, where he recorded pins and technical falls over all his opponents on the way to a title at 170 pounds.

After that, he went to the Junior & Cadet National Championships in Fargo, N.D., a showcase for high school wrestlers across the country. Ritter competed in both styles or wrestling offered in Fargo, and finished third in the nation in freestyle and won the Greco-Roman title.

“After he got his rest, he was hitting on all cylinders,” Watson said. “He pinned state champions from Texas, Florida, and a two-time state champion from South Carolina. That tournament had 3,800 kids. He was amazing.”

Watson said his role with Ritter is different than it is with his other wrestlers.

“I don’t know that I really coach him because he’s so talented,” Watson said. “My job is to make sure that he’s working in the wrestling room; that he’s huffing and puffing and getting better. He has so much natural ability, and he’s learned so much from all of the coaches he’s had.

“He’s a great young man, and he’s matured both mentally and physically. Wrestling is a three-month marathon for a one-month sprint, but he’s handled every challenge I’ve throw at him.”

In his blood

Kraisser’s ability comes natural to the Centennial wrestler. It’s in his blood. The sophomore grew up in a house of wrestlers.

His brother Nathan, now a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, compiled a 33-7 record and qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year. He also was a four-time Maryland high school state champion at Centennial. Older brother Brian was also a wrestler.

As a freshman, Kraisser went 38-4. He advanced to the state championship but dropped a 7-5 decision to Bethesda-Chevy Chase’s Charlie Banaszak, a senior.

Kraisser also went to Fargo, where he placed second in the country in freestyle and fourth in Greco-Roman.

“He really looks up to Nathan,” said Cliff Kraisser, both his father and coach at Centennial. “He’s been around this with his brothers since he was five, but he’s blazing his own trail. He’s very coachable. He’s willing to try new things.”

Kraisser says the loss in the state championship last year is one of the things that’s driving his son this year.

“He was very disappointed,” he said. “It has definitely motivated him. He wants to be the best.”

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