Since Coach Mike Barikian came onto the scene as the Kingsway wrestling coach three years ago, the program has been on an upward trajectory.
While the program was not in shambles by any means, this storied program, which had won three state championships in its history, was overdue for another state title. Barikian promised to put this program in a position to vie for a state title again, and he immediately went to work trying to deliver.
In his first year, Barikian’s squad defeated Hammonton to win the South Jersey Group 4 championship. The following year, his team moved up to Group 5 and lost to Southern Regional (this year’s State Group 5 champion) in the Sectional final.
There was only one thing left to do at this point – bring home a state title.
Well, that is exactly what the Kingsway wrestling program did this year.
After defeating Clearview for the Tri-County Royal Division Championship and then again in the South Jersey Group 4 title match, they found themselves in the state Group 4 “Final Four” where they first defeated Central Jersey Group 4 champ Jackson Memorial. That victory earned them a ticket to the final where they would take on four-time defending champion Phillipsburg, who was looking to garner its 23rd State Group title.
In a back and forth match that matched the wits of Coach Barikian with Phillipsburg Coach Dave Post, it all came down to the last match, where Cheney Kinner won 8-1 to clinch the title for the Dragons by a score of 26-20.
The old stalwart had gone down, and a celebration for the new champs was on.
“When we brought Coach Barikian on, we anticipated that this could be a possible outcome for this program somewhere down the road,” said Kingsway Athletic Director June Cioffi. “His level of enthusiasm and passion for the sport is necessary in leading a program to a state title.”
“To see the pure joy and elation from the athletes was rewarding to see,” Cioffi continued. “Like most state championship runs, it was a long journey getting to that spot.”
Subsequently, after winning the state championship, Kingsway also went on to win the District 32 team title. Barikian was named the District as well as the Region Coach of the Year.
It appears that Barikian came through on his promise.
By Christian Lynch