Coach of the Year: John Lowe, Winters Mill

When it comes to end of the season awards, the Baltimore wrestling community has a lot to choose from in 2011-12.

McDonogh coach Pete Welch led his Eagles to the top of the most competitive MIAA Conference in recent history, and River Hill coach Brandon Lauer took his Hawks through a brutally scheduled season, finishing with a 3A/4A state crown.

But neither team was perfect; truly perfect. That feat was accomplished by Winters Mill. Led by coach John Lowe, the Falcons went 32-0, devouring titles in Carroll County, the idolized Class 1A/2A West Region, and repeating at Cole Field House as 1A/2A state tournament champions. 

Lowe has earned the right to be named the VSN Wrestling Coach of the Year.

“We actually thought we could and wanted to win both the dual and the state tournament,” Lowe said.  “With the three tournaments we were in, we really didn’t know if we could go undefeated in the regular season, and that wasn’t in the forefront of our mind.

“At the beginning of the season, I told the team, ‘If we can get out of our own backyard, we should be in pretty good shape.’ Once again, our backyard was quite competitive with South Carroll, Southern Garrett and Middletown. I still think Southern Garrett was the second best team, dual-wise, in the state.”

Lowe’s Falcons also claim titles in nearly every edge of the state: the Keaser Duals (North County), the La Plata Duals in southern Maryland, and the Winters Mill Invitational.

The Falcons dominated the competition at the State Duals, finishing with the most lopsided finals win in the history of the tournament, defeating Owings Mills, 66-4. 

“When people first heard the score, the immediate reaction is to downplay Owings Mills; to say they had a weak region. But Owings Mills is a good team,” Lowe said.  “They were undefeated during the year, with the exception to one loss to Urbana, who was a dual champion, and it was really a case of everyone on the team being completely hungry.”

Last year, Winters Mill lost to Glenelg, 35-25, in the state dual finals. The Falcons’ 2012 dual title was the first for Carroll County since 1994.

“They remembered that loss in the finals last year, and we weren’t sure at that point what we were going to do. We had a couple of decent matchups.  We had a JV kid at 120 because of injury, and he matched up with one of their state qualifiers and pinned him.  When that happened, the place erupted. It was the spark to the powder keg.

“At that point, everyone said, ‘We’re all-in on this.’ Sometimes you forfeit at the end to avoid injury, but everyone wanted in that match. They said, ‘We want to be on the mat when this takes place,’ so we kept them on and everyone kept it up and wanted to contribute.”

Lowe has seen success at the high school and collegiate levels of the sport, coaching at McDaniel College where he took a no-name team to the top if its conference. Still, for Lowe, this season will be the one to beat.

“I don’t think anything can compare to it,” Lowe said. “At McDaniel, we went from almost dropping the program to winning the conference.  We turned it around here, too, going from dead last in the county to where we are today.

“This was one of those beyond my wildest dreams things.  When you are a kid playing basketball, your dream is so one day play in the NBA. For a coach, we dream of shutting out the opposition in the state duals, and we almost did that.  This is one of those years where you just kind of can’t believe it.”

nathan kraisserLowerweight Wrestler of the Year: Nathan Kraisser, Centennial

When a wrestler accomplished what only a few others achieved before him, it is certainly something special.

Centennial’s Nathan Kraisser did just that when he had his hand raised at the end of his fourth straight MPSSAA state championship, only the fifth to accomplish the feat at the public level. Kraisser is Varsity Sports Network’s Lowerweight Wrestler of the Year. 

“I wanted to continue my success and finish my high school career on a strong note,” the three-time state champ said heading into his final season.  “It is an honor to be with the other wrestler who accomplished the feat, but there is still room to improve, and that is what I will focus on throughout college.”

Kraisser made his way through the 2011-2012 season with a 36-3 record, going undefeated in Maryland and seeing all of his defeats come out-of-state.  His mat talents bumped his career record to 152-6, seeing his monopoly of Howard County, East Region and state titles.

It’s no secret where Kraisser will be taking his wrestling talents after his June graduation. As seen by the socks worn in his final state championship, the Eagle will transform into a Tar Heel as he makes his way to the University of North Carolina.

“I am really excited. I can’t wait to go down there and have tough competition, training with one of the best wrestlers ever,” Kraisser said, passing on offers from Cornell, Lehigh and the ACC’s Virginia Tech and Maryland.  “[Cary Kolat] helped me a lot before in junior league, so he will be able to help me improve even more in college.”

tyler rillUpperweight Wrestler of the Year: Tyler Rill. Mount St. Joseph

On a rebuilding team, Rill helped Mount St. Joseph remain a competitive entity in the MIAA. He was again the most successful upperweight wrestler in the area’s toughest league, earning Varsity Sports Network’s Upperweight Wrestler of the Year honors.

Barreling through a 36-4 season, the Gael wrestler repeated his success in the MIAA and Maryland Independent Schools tournaments adding titles to his growing resume, and upped his status at the National Preps.

“I was definitely very happy with how I did this season,” Rill said.  “I kept getting banged up throughout this season, and it got me down, but I kept working hard in the room and talking to my coaches about anything that was stressing me out.  It obviously all paid off in the end.”

Rill accumulated 153 wins against just 38 losses during his four years of high school wrestling, bettering himself each season.  Finishing fifth and fourth, respectively at the MIAA and MIS in his freshman year, Rill was a runner-up in both tournaments as a sophomore, before taking the titles in his final two seasons.

At National Preps, the Mount St. Joe standout went from being a non place-winner in his rookie year, to placing seventh as a sophomore. After a third-place showing last year, Rill was runner-up this past season.

“I was on the Maryland National team and went out to Fargo this summer. I think that helped; to just keep wrestling and not have a lot of off time,” Rill said. “My goal was to win. I fell short by three points there.  I am definitely happy with how it turned out.  It fell short, but it felt good to be in the finals in front of all those people.”

Rill will continue to compete on the mat even after his graduation from high school, as he will attend Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania.

“I like to take a lot of stuff from wrestling and put it with everyday things,” the future Husky said. “The biggest things I have learned from both school and wrestling is to work hard and be persistent.  I think that has helped me build my confidence.”