DOVER TWP. – Off in a corner after a six-point win over traditional state power Phillipsburg made Kingsway the Group 4 state champions, Dragons head coach Mike Barikian clearly understood the underlying importance of the moment for one of his wrestlers.
“First of all, you are exactly right,” Barikian said. “That Cheney Kinner has to come into this world of wrestling behind (older brother) Quinn. The shadow that Quinn casts, no one could live up too.
“We spoke to him. We told him you are going to be a hero tonight. You’ve won matches in the state tournament. You’ve won matches in Atlantic City. This is your time.”
Kinner took the moment and dominated at 138 pounds in an 8-1 decision over Luke Hardin that clinched a 26-20 win in the state final at the RJW Barnabus Health Arena at Toms River North High School. Kinner entered the bout with the knowledge that even a loss by decision and the Dragons would be state champs, but as every Kinner before, he wrestled a smart match and dominated his Phillipsburg counterpart.
“I knew the situation,” said Kinner, whose previously mentioned brother Quinn won two state titles and is a freshman at Ohio State University. “Don’t try anything stupid.
“I knew I could beat him but it was a matter of being smart and dominating him. Most of all don’t stop wrestling. I didn’t watch the match before me but I knew I just had to win.”
Admittedly Kinner’s record this year isn’t that great but that comes in large part due to the fact he’s had to wrestle up at higher weights all year.
“He’s not a big 138 pounder and on our roster, we’ve had him at 145 and 152 all year,” Barikian said. “He’s done everything for this team and that came through today.”
“My record may not show it but I feel I’ve made a lot of improvement this year,” said Kinner, who fought his emotions throughout the post-match moments. “This is the strongest I’ve ever been. I have a lot of people to thank but especially this coaching staff.”
Kinner has plenty of experience to lean on in the room including Brandon Becker who won the Beast of the East and a state title in 2002 for the Dragons. He’s also had years battling his own family which hasn’t always been easy but on this night worth it.
“This title is for my two brothers (Trace and Quinn) who went through this program but never won this title, it’s for them,” the youngest Kinner said. “It’s for my dad who feels a part of the team because he gets so emotionally involved.
“It’s for my team and it’s a great feeling.”
Cheney Kinner is awarded Group 4 State Trophy by his uncle Jack Kinner